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William ALWYN (1905-1985)
Overture to a Masque (1940) [9:42]
Concerto Grosso No. 1 in B flat major (1943) [11:25]
Pastoral Fantasia for viola and strings (1939) [13:20]
Five Preludes (1927) [6:10]
Tragic Interlude (1936) [9:16]
Autumn Legend for cor anglais and orchestra (1954) [10:55]
Suite of Scottish Dances (1946) [7:35]
Philip Dukes (viola); Rachael Pankhurst (cor anglais)
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/David Lloyd-Jones
rec. Philharmonic Hall. Liverpool, 19, 20, 22 January 2006, 9 June 2007. DDD
Recording made with financial assistance from the William Alwyn Foundation. DDD
NAXOS 8.570704 [68:24]


Experience Classicsonline

Admirers of the fecund Alwyn have good reason to look forward to Naxos’s continuing exploration of his music. This one contains a world premiere in the form of the modest but still engaging six minute Five Preludes of 1927 as well as fine-sounding, idiomatic performances of other orchestral works, some better known to aficionados of the composer’s music than others.

Overture to a Masque is a perky affair that sports a motif that circles swooningly close to Blue Moon and the waft of dance-hall cigarette smoke. Around this evocative B section is the fiery drama of Alwyn in dramatic mode. Three years later came the Concerto Grosso No. 1, something of a concerto for orchestra, full of fanfare bristle and commanding opportunities for, amongst others, the trumpet principal, percussion and solo violin. It was dedicated to the LSO’s then leader George Stratton and ‘my friends in the LSO’ – the orchestra in which Alwyn was a flautist. There’s a lovely velvety cushion beneath the cor anglais’s solo in the second movement and the strings respond with real sensitivity in their supportive role. This is refined writing full of excellent distribution of voices. I imagine the vivace finale would have suited Stratton’s rather biting, resinous tone well and there are puckish opportunities for orchestral solos alongside plenty of neo-classical frolics.

The Pastoral Fantasia was premiered by Watson Forbes. It’s a warm, nostalgic opus, very reminiscent – and surely deliberately so – of The Lark Ascending. Those previously unrecorded Preludes were written in 1927. They’re deftly scored miniatures and embrace a charming little waltz and some Chinese effects. What’s most admirable is Alwyn’s gift for quick characterisation – that and his writing for winds which, as one might predict, is first class. The Tragic Interlude followed in 1936 – full of baleful, brooding, heavy-booted drama that ends resignedly. Autumn Legend for cor anglais and orchestra is an atmospheric Nordic affair, somewhat aloof and chilly. Whereas the Suite of Scottish Dances is a picture postcard miscellany of frolicsome verve.

The sound in Philharmonic Hall has been captured with first class attention to detail. The two instrumental soloists, Philip Dukes (viola) and Rachael Pankhurst (cor anglais) play with poetic warmth and technical address. The programme’s balance has a pleasing diversity; terse, windswept, ebullient, frisky, serious. Not the place to start for those coming fresh to the composer because it’s too heterogeneous a collection but definitely one for Alwyn collectors.

Jonathan Woolf

see also Review by Rob Barnett



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