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Kenneth LEIGHTON (1929-1988)
Orchestral Works Volume 1
Symphony for Strings, Op. 3 (1948-9) [24:53]
Organ Concerto, Op. 58 (1970) [27:28]
Concerto for String Orchestra, Op. 39 (1960-61) [22:11]
 John Scott (organ)
BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Richard Hickox
rec. St David's Hall, Cardiff, 29-30 November 2006.
 CHANDOS CHAN10461 [74:34]
Experience Classicsonline

Early on Kenneth Leighton's music had a niche in the Chandos catalogue. The RSNO recording of the Third Symphony was for years at full price and migrated to mid-price several years ago. There's also their disc (CHAN 9436) of chamber music linking Leighton and Grainger.
This disc however is a completely fresh enterprise - volume 1 in a  new series of Leighton's orchestral works (see also review of Volume 2) - not presumably the complete works though we can live in hope?
This disc - generously filled out - has the massed string orchestra as its centre of gravity.
The premiere of the Symphony for Strings was given by the Newbury String Players conducted by Gerald Finzi - an early and stalwart encourager of Leighton. The writing in this springy-athletic romantic work bears the strong impress of Bliss and his 1937 Music for Strings rather than of Finzi's Dies Natalis. The outer movements go with zest and zing - determined and sanguine and reminiscent a little of Wirén's Serenade. These flank a gentle and heart-stilling Lento with a feint tinge of the nostalgic-melancholic. The Leighton-Finzi friendship endured until Finzi's death in 1956. Veris Gratia for oboe, cello and strings was written by Leighton and premiered by Finzi and the Newbury Players.
In total Leighton composed only eleven works for organ. The Organ Concerto is for the same forces as the 1938 concerto by Poulenc. The music has now acquired a chilly edge and the organ a more catastrophic overtone than in the music of the Symphony for Strings.  Clearly Leighton had sensed the artistic uprooting that took place in the 1960s. On the other hand the music has a certain Gallic lightness of touch that can be heard in the central movement but also an ebullience that recalls Tippett (1:09). As the finale progresses a more completely romantic style asserts itself linking back to the open-hearted language of the Symphony for Strings.
The Concerto for String Orchestra came at the start of the 1960s as the Organ Concerto appeared at the start of the 1970s. It is a more restrained work than the Symphony op. 3. It should then come as little surprise that it was written after studies with Petrassi in Rome.  The composer's exposure to the music of the Second Viennese School has added a deep patina of Bergian stress. On top of which it surely shows the hand of Shostakovich. There is a flighty-fantastic pizzicato central Toccata to provide contrast but its fury from time to time recalls Herrmann's Psycho music. Shostakovich is certainly a presence and appears unmistakably in the finale with the grim and gritty redolence of the first movement of the Sixth Symphony. Oddly enough the rush of notes after that ominous introduction recalls a typical Miaskovsky scherzo.  
Stunning recording quality distinguishes this release: listen to the timpani in first movement of the Organ Concerto. The technical excellence of this project is also evident from the superlative differentiation of dynamics.
Rob Barnett

see also review by Hubert Culot

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