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Alun HODDINOTT (1929-2008)
Variants for Orchestra Op. 47 (1966) [24.40]
London Symphony Orchestra/Norman Del Mar
rec. Bishopsgate Institute, September 1967 for EMI Pye Virtuoso TPLS13013
Night Music Op. 48 (1966) [8.04]; Sinfonietta No. 1 Op. 56 (1966) [11.35]
New Philharmonia Orchestra/David Atherton
rec. Kingsway Hall, London, March 1975 for Argo ZRG824
Sinfonietta No. 3 Op. 71 (1970) [13.02]; The Sun, The Great Luminary of the Universe Op. 76 (1970) [11.22]
London Symphony Orchestra/David Atherton
rec. Kingsway Hall, London, March 1972 for Decca SXL6570
First time on CD
LYRITA SRCD.333 [68.43]

Experience Classicsonline


 

 
Other Hoddinott also available on Lyrita:-

SRCD.330 Piano Concertos 1 2
SRCD.331 Symphonies 2 3 5
SRCD.332 Dives & Lazarus
SRCD.334 Dances
REAM.2108 piano music
 
In their 1970s heyday Decca and RCA did Alun Hoddinott proud with several LPs of his orchestral works appearing. These kept us up to the mark with his early works and with the new ones as they gradually came out. He was a very prolific composer: symphonies, operas - which have never made it on CD - and concertos. Both Chandos (CHAN 8762) and Nimbus took up the cause a little in the 1990s but he was never fully appreciated in his life-time. Now there is a concert hall named after him and now Lyrita have re-issued these works alongside various others from vinyl times. The present pieces fill in the gaps and were originally available from Pye, Argo and Decca.
 
The disc opens with the Variants for Orchestra written at a time when no composer was immune from the twelve-tone system. Interestingly Hoddinott adapts it to his own creative needs. He was on holiday in Italy and movements two, four and six derive their inspiration, according to Paul Conway in his supporting notes, from the Italian trip weaving in “impressions of the countryside”. The remaining movements derive from a tone-row, so in effect this is a work in double variation form. In addition some of the material is related throughout the work. The variants are given classical, Italian titles, Toccata (a fleeting Scherzo) Notturno (a favourite mood of the composer) and Passacaglia the harmonies of which can be heard clearly in chords found in the first movement. To crown this formally complex work we have a double-fugue which somehow contrives rather abruptly to “end on E”. You are unlikely ever to hear this work live, so this is your only opportunity to get to know one of the composer’s most ingenious and brilliant pieces. But perhaps the complex form outweighs its musical interest.
 
In the work immediately following, Night Music, he developed the nocturnal theme even further. Hoddinott composed at night - I often felt that he had what my mother insists on calling bags under the eyes! There are several nocturnal works, for instance the piano Nocturnes of 1956 and later, and another recorded work The Heaventree of Stars for violin and orchestra. This is the Hoddinott I most admire, the way he expresses himself through the medium of orchestration. This is not Bartòkian night music, although there is extensive use of percussion, a Hoddinott trade-mark, both tuned and unturned, the effect is gained through what Conway describes as “dense chordal textures” which evoked “initial sensations of darkness”. I find with a work like this that I never want it to end.
 
The Sinfoniettas are three movement works but the Sinfonietta No. 1 has, as a second, a Scherzo which includes within it a slow movement. It opens with a passionate Rapsodia and as ever in his music Hoddinott’s orchestration is a revelation and must make his work a joy for orchestras to play. The Sinfonietta No. 3 dates from two years later but as many as sixteen opus numbers further on. It was written for the now sadly defunct Cardiff Festival of 20th Century music. It follows a clear three movement pattern. The opening is a brooding Moderato, brilliantly but succinctly analysed by Paul Conway, the opening material of which is used extensively and economically and re-emerges in the third. The second movement although marked Adagio comes out in this interpretation as seeming to be at the same tempo; it has only two ideas which evolve and repeat around a central climax. Finally there is a skittish scherzo-like Allegro.
 
The last work on the disc is a real masterpiece and one that has not really been recognised as such. Based on a passage in James Joyce, the symphonic poem (Hoddinott never uses the term), The Sun, The Great Luminary of the Universe sets, almost sentence by sentence, a paragraph (quoted in full in the notes) from ‘A Portrait of an Artist as Young Man’. It’s an hypnotic vision of the Last Judgement, with the “moon, blood red” in a passage of wide dissonances opaquely orchestrated. St. Michael with his “ archangel trumpet the brazen death of time” can be heard in its wild and chaotic great climactic moment. Hoddinott quotes, unsurprisingly I suspect, the Chorale Es ist genug associated with Berg’s last great masterpiece - the Violin Concerto. The ‘Dies Irae’ plainchant, so often quoted by Rachmaninov, is also heard. This, and all of the performances were made under the watchful eye of the composer. Each has the stamp of authority. In addition with the LSO taking the main brunt of the works one hears them, arguably, at their very best period under a conductor whose sympathies for twentieth century music were, and still are, legion.
 
I can only strongly advise you to obtain your copy of this disc urgently. The recordings are excellent although you might need to have the volume control up a little higher than usual. The famous venues gave the orchestras every opportunity for detail to be heard. The accompanying notes are of the highest quality.
 

Gary Higginson
 

And a further review by Rob Barnett
 
Lyrita's issue and reissue programme via Wyastone Estate has been bountiful. It has brought back to circulation Lyrita’s own often glorious house recordings as well as the product of various British Council sponsored sessions originally issued on vinyl by Pye, Decca, Argo and Unicorn in the 1960s and 1970s. The pity, in this context, is that no-one seems to know who would be in a position to license an errant and elusive Hoddinott LP issued to mark the year of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee (1977). It is RL 25082: Piano Concerto No. 3, Op. 44 (1966); Sinfonietta No. 2; Landscapes (Roger Woodward (piano); New Philharmonia Orchestra/Hans-Hubert Schönzeler). Ah well, maybe one day!
 
Variants is well done. Each of the six movements is separately tracked. The scoring displays typical clarity. Hoddinott embraces dissonance but does so to genial effect with every line and texture laid ecstatically bare. Rhetorically blurting brass play their part at the end of the Sonata first movement. The Toccata is a haunted, rushing and skittering piece. It's heavy with emotionalism. Tragedy casts an oddly benevolent shadow over the Variazioni movement. The music exercises a powerful and somewhat doom-laden spell. The brisk and almost breezy gangling Fuga manages to avoid sounding suffocatingly academic. The more vigorous writing sounds like Kodaly yet with a Leifs type stomp. Phew!
 
There are many examples of nocturnal works in the Hoddinott catalogue. He was something of a night walker. Night Music is an essay in his usual lucidity of expression with many soloistic lines integrated into the whole. The effect is Bergian and certainly glinting though not at all melodic … or hardly so. The percussion benches are crowded with gongs, tubular bells, glockenspiel, woodblock and whip. The mystery and threat of night is laid bare amid shimmering sighs. The final pages are wonderfully atmospheric.
 
Sinfonietta No. 1 is the first of four such works. Unusually it is in two movements. The first begins with an untypically idyllic glow but this soon encounters Hoddinott's mastery of expression. One of his most accessible works this is very entertaining with the usual bejewelled level of activity and flickering invention moving from bloom to bloom. The second movement is called Scherzi. Its chiming mercurial honeybird-hovering manner recalls that fellow Celt William Mathias. The work ends in a rambunctious final acceleration. It was premiered by the RPO and Rudolf Kempe at the Cardiff Festival in 1968.
 
The Third Sinfonietta was premiered in Swansea at the Brangwyn Hall by the New Philharmonia under Edward Downes. While parts of the First Sinfonietta are almost light music (something he was no stranger to - witness the Welsh Dances) this Sinfonietta is more of a pocket symphony. It is in three movements and expresses a big manner. The music tracks through cataclysm, despair and fantasy with some consolatory reflection along the way. Some of this music sounds akin to the Malcolm Arnold of symphonies 7 and 9. The finale is a wild and defiant march with a slashing Mahlerian blade to add macabre bitterness. You are never in any doubt that the vital creative spark here is symphonic in ambit.
 
The Sun, the Great Luminary of the Universe is Joyce-inspired: apocalyptic and visionary. At 11:22 it is the most impressive piece here. The Doomsday imagery is from Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, a book that also drew music from many other composers notably Matyas Seiber whose Joyce Fragments have just been the subject of a Peter Pears/Melos Ensemble CD revival on Australian Decca Eloquence: The writing howls and meditates, muses and wrestles with eternity. Indeed there is a chronometer-ticking ostinato towards the end from 7:02 onwards. The music takes on a doom-laden growl and spleen at the close as earth's manuscript is uprooted and destroyed. Those apocalyptic brass instruments take us through piled high negation until the return of the sighing mysteries of the opening pages. Hoddinott speaks of an empty universe with music that is dissonant and pithy yet impressively approachable: “The moon is blood-red and the sun has become as sackcloth of hair. Time is; Time was but time shall be no more.”
 
The liner-notes are by Lyrita regular Paul Conway whose fresh communicative style and depth of knowledge of British music of the second half of the twentieth century is outstanding.
 
I rather long for that RCA Hoddinott LP but, at the same time, Lyrita should also look to license from Unicorn the Wilfred Josephs Requiem and Fifth Symphony. They would pair very neatly indeed. But that’s another story.
 
Rob Barnett
 

 


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