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Alan RAWSTHORNE (1905-1971)
Street Corner Overture (1944) [5:36]
Madame Chrysanthème - ballet suite (1957) [8:25]
Practical Cats - An entertainment for speaker and orchestra (1954) [22:48]
Theme, Variations and Finale (1967) [15:13]
Medieval Diptych for baritone and orchestra (1962) [14:09]
Coronation Overture (1953) [5:33]
Simon Callow (narrator)
Jeremy Huw Williams (baritone)
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/David Lloyd-Jones
rec. Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, 4-5 September 2007; Abbey Road, Studio 2, 17 December 2007. DDD
Experience Classicsonline

The Rawsthorne Trust vies with the Finzi Trust in how much has been achieved for their respective composers in such a short time. Film royalties have continued to provide the funding for studio session after session. The mature Rawsthorne works have been recorded since the late 1990s principally by Naxos and latterly by Dutton. The linkage between the two is conductor David Lloyd-Jones who featured heavily and sympathetically on the Naxos recordings. He now conducts this assemblage of the rare and the familiar.
Two overtures of pretty much equal length bookend this collection which also fills several gaps in the Rawsthorne discography.
The Street Corner Overture goes with a real swing goaded on to grand effect by Lloyd-Jones. There is no escaping the picaresque raucous bombast of some of this music. It smacks of a collision between Cockaigne and Beckus the Dandipratt. The rare Coronation Overture has a Handelian weightiness in its veins relieved by an eerie distant cavalcade at 1:10. It's a strange piece with some splendid moments amid the Handelian references. Also intriguing are the edgy fanfaring passages at 3:20 and the capricious soloistic writing at 3:55 onwards. What we hear is John McCabe's reconstruction from the orchestral parts. The original MS full score was lost.
The complete ballet of Madame Chrysanthème has been recorded by ASV. The subject is taken from the novel by Pierre Loti (not Lotti, Dutton). The four movements here are a sensationally lyrical Procession with Lanterns which is more RVW than Rawsthorne, a Bernstein-like Sword Dance which is impressive and strongly rhythmic, the Hornpipe is echt-Rawsthorne in its surging lyrical line and the Les Mousmes links back to the mood of the first movement. This is a most attractive character suite.
Practical Cats is well known from the classic Robert Donat recording on EMI. The orchestral overture has all the street urchin impudence and Offenbach and Auric flutter that we expect. You can hear it again in Jellicle Cats (tr.12). Simon Callow is suitably stately, ingenuous and artfully artless in his delivery. This is a Practical Cats for the new century. The booklet does not reprint the words but their is no need: Simon Callow is clear as a bell yet unaffected and full of character.
The Theme, Variations and Finale dates from 1967 but presumably because it was written for Graham Treacher and Essex Youth Orchestra it is softer in language than we might expect from late Rawsthorne. There is an angularity to this writing but it's gentle and the turmoil is comparable with that of Cortèges and Street Corner. The triptych is presented here as a single track.
The Medieval Diptych is a little known work and this is its world premiere recording as was the triptychal work for Graham Treacher. The language is fully accessible and there is little sign of the dissonance associated with Rawsthorne scores of the 1960s – for example the Third Symphony. He wrote little for the human voice with orchestra although there is the central movement of his Second Symphony 'Pastoral'. The two poems have the Virgin Mary as their focus. The pattern of two poems of interlinked subject matter was established by Finzi in his A Farewell to Arms and his Two Milton Sonnets. These two are powerful if rather bleak and volatile settings. If the music of the first part is predominantly haunted with a sense of horror lurking over the shoulder Adam Lay yBounden is more playful but it feels more like the Grand Guignol of Lambert's King Pest. The mood becomes more frankly celebratory as the piece ends. Anyone concerned with British music for voice needs to hear this.
The words for Medieval Diptych are provided on the Dutton website. The notes are by John Belcher who on occasion seems with John McCabe to have instigated, piloted and provided momentum and sustenance for the Rawsthorne revival of fortunes.
A well presented collection in excellent performances and recordings filling gaps in the Rawsthorne discography with panache.
Rob Barnett


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