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George LLOYD (1539/40-1623)
Symphony No. 4 in B, Arctic (1945-6) [65:07]
Albany Symphony Orchestra/George Lloyd
rec. Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, Troy, New York, 7-8 December 1987. DDD
Experience Classicsonline

This 1987 recording featuring George Lloyd conducting his Symphony 4 is a reissue of Albany Records AR002. That was just a CD. This reissue is one of that relatively rare breed today, a two-layer SACD hybrid, so you get CD and higher definition SACD stereo but no multi-channel, surround-sound version, presumably because the source recording is only two channel. I compared it with the original. The CD has good dynamic range, plenty of body and glow. The SACD is brighter, clearer, less glowing yet with more subtleties of dynamic range and detail apparent. But there isn’t any greater density in tone or spaciousness which surround sound would bring. So if you have the original issue and are happy with its sound there’s no necessity to upgrade.

Booklet notes by William Lloyd, George’s nephew give the biographical background to this work and thus stress how it represents George’s personal rehabilitation, but it’s a pity George’s terse yet informative notes on the music, included with the original CD, no longer appear. So I’ll make some reference to them in this review.

This is the first time I’ve seen the symphony given the nickname Arctic. This is not on the composer’s autograph score. What he wrote on the title page was "A world of darkness, storms, strange colours, and a far away peacefulness" but his notes identify this with the Arctic in the winter of 1941-42. I wonder if Albany’s nickname is attempting to invite comparison with Vaughan Williams’ Sinfonia Antartica, composed 1949-52. There are some resemblances such as passages evoking the awesome quality of huge forces of nature and climatic conditions, a sense of vast expanses. Both display heroic responses to adversity. RVW is more epic and resolute in character, Lloyd more upbeat especially in the finale.

The performance itself is a fine one. In the first movement (tr. 1) the composer gets across well the sheer variation of mood. He writes its concern is with "the storms and darkness, with only an occasional glimpse of light". But the predominant mood of the work is affirmative and optimistic and it begins like a pageant. Set against the summery fanfares, however, are the autumnal glinting half lights of the violins (e.g. at 0:41). Then there’s the nervous fluttering energy of the strings from 1:38 and their eerie skittering from 2:34. There are awe inspiring brass climaxes, the "terrifying aspects" of the Arctic, at 3:20 and 7:52. But by 3:37 creamy woodwind cries alternate with supportive, intimate violins. The return of the opening (8:18) is wan because of the foreboding created by the added scurrying activity. Chromatic wailing from 9:10 and the relentless progression of the strings’ storm winds leads to a sense of maelstrom from 12:29. But a rosy calm ensues and at 15:46 the smooth big tune.

I compared the symphony’s first and only other recording (Lyrita SRCD.2258), made by the Philharmonia Orchestra/Edward Downes in 1981 on the two days following their world premiere performance. Here are the comparative timings:-







Lloyd 1987






Downes 1981






Downes’ account has greater momentum, more immediate edge and engagement but less nuance of shading, atmosphere and chill feel that Lloyd brings. Downes’ analogue recording is brighter with clear positioning though less breadth, glow and density than the digital Lloyd. Downes’ strings’ nervous rustlings are more exciting but the brass climaxes, passing more quickly, lack Lloyd’s sense of immensity. Downes’ flute and oboe cries leading to the second theme are more mournful, his divided first violins’ response more lusciously sighing. Downes’ second theme itself is a luxuriating major key one after this minor key meandering. Lloyd is more laid back and subtle in his presentation of it (4:38). Similarly he brings more cogent weight to a more meaty, clouded version of part of this theme in this movement’s development from 6:02 where Downes sweeps forward. Downes presents the bass clarinet’s tread at the outset of the storm more spookily where Lloyd (9:03) is relatively innocuous. Downes build-up is more tense, Lloyd’s climax more horrific. Downes displays a smooth calm and heartfelt expansion of the big tune. Lloyd is no less flowing but more reflective, bringing to it a graceful dignity and dreamy quality.

The slow movement (tr. 2) begins with a very still, calm expanse, but activity is also within the calm as when the violas echo the violins from 0:41 and then the violins return as if interlocking in an embrace. You appreciate the rarefied atmosphere. There’s something of Copland about it but Lloyd’s scoring and harmonies seem to filter it through Delius. He states this movement is a recollection of travelling up the Norwegian coast as far as the North Cape nine years before 1941-42. Its main, homely theme, is first presented by clarinet (3:02), with a degree of aloofness here, as if Lloyd is content to be a spectator of the natural splendour. The violins respond with a more roseate tenderness but this is offset by a raw, impassioned sequence begun by the cellos (4:50), as if beauty can only fully be appreciated in the light of grim experience. The strings crown the movement in a regal take-up of the homely theme over a fluttering heartbeat of an ostinato. But there’s still an essential calm about it all as Lloyd’s account conveys its innate nobility through the control of a certain reticence. At the close we return to the expanse and the clear, still skyline. Lloyd’s opening and close achieve more pristine stillness and poise than the brighter, atmospheric but more immediate Downes who also invests the articulation with more feeling so the clarinet theme has a more calming effect. Downes’ treatment of its apotheosis on the strings is resolute and stately but lacks Lloyd’s inner dignity.

The challenge Lloyd set himself in the scherzo was "to produce an effect of brilliance without using any brass instruments", though actually he does use horns at climactic moments. In the scherzo (tr. 3) Lloyd gives us a dance of both jocularity and restlessness, but ever lightly pointed, especially its second theme (1:05) which pauses in mid air as if the male dancer is lifting the female before us. A more animated, albeit only mock serious cellos’ led theme (2:04) encourages more whirring from the violins and percussion letting rip. The trio (3:56) is a dreamy centre, its smoulderingly sultry theme reminiscent of the second ‘movement’ of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio espagnol. The violins get into lullaby mode. Smooth phrasing makes everything warm and comfortable. Lloyd makes the scherzo return more urgent, its rhythmic ingenuity more apparent, but the second theme is rather brusquely treated. The trio briefly returns too, less relaxed this time and with a solo violin now pirouetting around the theme before a lively coda. Downes is more forthright in the scherzo dance, with more marked rhythmic emphasis and whirligig excitement of its climax, a more drawling trio, like a long contented yawn and stretch.

Lloyd is a touch diffident about his finale, pointing out it has little to do with the Arctic and is "mostly a series of quick, march-like tunes" as if "when the funeral is over the band plays quick, cheerful tunes to go home". But the uplifting, triumphant affirmation is the point. Also, though Lloyd doesn’t state this, I’d say the march themes honour his fellow bandsmen, 17 out of 21 who died when his ship’s torpedo malfunctioned in 1942. The virtual absence of the brass in the scherzo points up the more their full bodied presence in the finale. The introduction’s evocative horn solo is the birth of one march which jauntily reveals its full colours at 3:34. But there’s also a bracing atmosphere and dramatically descending phrase of gritty resolve in the trombones (4:20) before the individual joie de vivre, even impishness of the march theme returning Till Eulenspiegel fashion as a clarinet solo, to which the trumpet responds with its own sunny march (5:22). Then the strings have a more noble march (5:45) but with gorgeously fruity woodwind embellishments and an even broader march at 7:06. The tunes don’t outstay their welcome as on repeat the accompaniment is varied and the effect is like gradually taking in more detail in a passing parade.

From 10:26 the waves start to heave again, skilfully worked up in strings and full orchestra, but this swell isn’t life threatening. A screeching wind gets up at 12:45, countered by Janáček-like horn volleys at 13:44 and all the march themes are welcomed back with a creamy breadth and brass writing as exultant as Elgar’s. Downes’ introduction has more dramatic expectancy and tension released in the festive burst of the Allegro. The elements of the movement are clearly revealed at the same time as being swept jubilantly along. The trombones’ descending phrase is more freely treated than in Lloyd’s account but generally Downes injects more edge into the articulation, bringing an elevating feel of open air music. Lloyd’s introduction is warmer and smoochier. His greater control of the tremolando accompaniment makes you more attentive to it. His more laid back display of the succession of tunes has greater assurance, easing the whole movement forward majestically.

On balance, then, I’d say this Lloyd account is the better of the two recordings available and now in even better sound. Downes is sometimes more gripping but Lloyd provides more magic moments.

Michael Greenhalgh




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