William ALWYN (1905-1985)
Overture in the Form of a Serenade (1946) [5:55]
Micaela Haslam (soprano); The London Chorus
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Heroic Elegy & Triumphal Epilogue (1901 rev. 1902) [20:03]
Roderick Elms (organ)
York BOWEN (1884-1961)
Orchestral Poem Eventide op.69 (1922) [13:10]
Roderick Elms (organ)
William ALWYN (1905-1985)
Prelude (1925) [2:11]
Blackdown – a Tone Poem from the Surrey Hills (1926) [5:00]
Peter Pan Suite (1923) [5:24]
Ad Infinitum – a Satire for Orchestra (1929) [7:02]
Sir Hubert PARRY (1848-1918)
Hypatia – incidental music (1892) [13:04]
The London Chorus/Ronald Corp
BBC Concert Orchestra/John Wilson
rec. The Colosseum, Town Hall, Watford, 12-14 July 2009
DUTTON EPOCH CDLX 7237 [72:52]

Some people do not take kindly to these very mixed collections. I rather like them even if I do lean more towards single composer albums. It’s probably non-PC to commend such miscellanies for the reason that they may in this case attract the avid Bowen enthusiast they might well lead to that person ‘discovering’ Alwyn. Anyway here goes ….

Alwyn’s 1940s Overture in the Form of a Serenade is a gallimaufry of influences and effects – all attractive if in a disorientating blend. The work has a Petrushkan energy, a touch of RVW folksiness and the light and carefree attitude of Bliss in Rhapsody and Madam Noy. This is rarely redolent of what we may regard as the mature Alwyn from the symphonies although once or twice the brass whoops betray that identity. We then turn to a work from another, more famous, composer’s pre-history: the Heroic Elegy & Triumphal Epilogue by Vaughan Williams. Given the references to heroism and triumph the mood of the music is more seraphic than I had expected. Compare it with slightly later works, similarly entitled, by the young and confident Havergal Brian. His For Valour (1902-06) and In Memoriam (1910) were recorded by the Hull Youth Symphony Orchestra and Geoffrey Heald-Smith in 1979-81 and can still be heard on Cameo Classics CC9014CD-2. The NSO Ireland conducted by Adrian Leaper also recorded In Memoriam on Marco Polo 8.223481. New recordings of those Brian works are due from Toccata Classics in due course. The two Brian pieces - also written with the Boer War as backdrop - have a more craggy aspect where RVW, though he has some darkly tragic outbursts as at 1:38 in the longer Triumphal Epilogue, is in general more tensely restrained. Again characteristic RVW is short on the ground but there are some foreshadowings of the pastoral voice that was to come. Drum-rolls and fanfares are present so that at least is in keeping. Who knows – next we may get to hear the tone poem The Solent – I very much hope so. The two RVW works are separately tracked. York Bowen’s renaissance continues apace with the premiere of his First Symphony at Em Marshall’s English Music Festival in May 2010. The orchestral and chamber Bowen has been done handsomely by Dutton. With the tone poem Eventide this is carried further forward. It’s a lovely rounded and contented sunset score in an idiom that blends Delius and Bax – in that sense a typical product of the Royal Academy. The final pages wreathed in solos from the orchestra’s principals are utterly magical. The piece was last heard in a speckle of concert and radio performances in the 1920s. It is inspired by Keats’ first sonnet. We return to Alwyn next for four works from the 1920s. There’s a grimly determined microscopic Prelude for orchestra which in fact contains far more presentiments of the future mature Alwyn than the 1946 overture that launches the disc. Its gaunt and turbulent mien several times reminded me of his Fifth Symphony Hydriotaphia which lay fifty years in the future. Dutton really do offer new perspectives on works we are familiar with and constantly cause the readjustment of our judgmental compasses. Blackdown – a Tone Poem from the Surrey Hills will appeal to all lovers of British pastoralism. It was performed at the same Guildford concert as Bowen’s Eventide. It’s a musical portrait as potently atmospheric as Maurice Johnstone’s superb Tarn Howes and RVW’s Lake in the Woods. The music was inspired by the view from the top of Blackdown, the hill near Haslemere. It’s wonderful stuff and quite unlike the majority of the Alwyn we know from post-1945. The Peter Pan Suite is in four movements: (i) Peter Pan (light as down – Fauré-impressionistic and contented); (ii) Tinker Bell (tinklingly restful – Ariel without the mischief); (iii) The Lost Boys in Never-Never Land (more ambivalent in mood – sorrowing even) and (iv) Captain Hook (a mercurial piece – with fragments of a familiar hornpipe). Ad Infinitum is the longest piece in this Alwyn sequence. It is quite different from the rest. Beginning rampant it remains furious or at least irritable with activity. It was inspired by Josef Capek’s play The Life of the Insects. The lyrically restless theme has a touch of Elgar about it but its vigour owes more to Barber’s nostalgic suite Souvenirs – or it might have had it not have pre-dated the Barber. It ends in alternating caramel and bitters. Parry was from a previous generation and from the ‘other’ London college to the one attended by Alwyn and Bowen. The three movements from his incidental music for a stage adaptation of Charles Kingsley’s novel Hypatia are variously Elgarian-contented (i) Andante (Hypatia and Philammon - Act 3: Entr’acte; sumptuously complacent and ever-threatening to turn into a waltz (ii) Allegretto (Ruth and Orestes) Entr’acte before Act 2 and proudly rounded in its march mode but with a very much lighter touch emerging in the Trio section (iii) Moderato alla marcia (Orestes’ March) Act 4, Scene 2.

The whole collection is successful though I confess I was not that impressed with the for me rather emptily Germanic Parry. There are no complaints and indeed glowing praise for the performance and recording. The notes are by Andrew Knowles and Lewis Foreman. They hit all the right bases.

Rob Barnett