Arthur BUTTERWORTH (b. 1923)
Symphony No.5 Op.115 (2001-02) [27:58]
Three Nocturnes: Northern Summer Nights Op.18 (1958) [15:26]
The Quiet Tarn Op.21 (1960) [5:00]
The Green Wind Op.22 (1960) [6:39]
Coruscations Op.127 (2007) [6:02]
Gigues Op.42 (1969) [6:00]
Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Arthur Butterworth
rec. Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow 4-5 May 2010. DDD.
World Premiere Recordings
DUTTON EPOCH CDLX 7253 [67:49]
A long and perforce patient life has begun to bear fruit for Arthur Butterworth. He is a composer of steadfast Nordic sympathies. Sibelius, Nielsen and Vaughan Williams may be said to be hard-wired into his creative psyche. This is not to say that he writes tribute music. His munificent catalogue is full of strongly personal inventive works of an often muscular self identity. That said, the synthesis includes the music of these loved figures.
The slender Butterworth catalogue includes a Douglas Bostock-conducted version of Butterworth's First Symphony on ClassicO and another - a historical one by Barbirolli (on Dutton). The Fourth Symphony is on the same 2CD set as the Barbirolli First Symphony and the Viola Concerto.
There are six numbered symphonies in total - eight if you count the very early Moorland Symphony and Odin (a typically Nordic subject for this composer) a symphony for brass band.
The Quiet Tarn has already been written about with great perception and feeling by John France. It's a brooding piece linked with Malham Tarn in the Yorkshire Dales. The surface of Tapiola is there and the woodwind cries recall Patrick Hadley's The Hills but the overarching redolence is of Sibelius. Its companion is the eldritch Green Wind, based on lines from Shelley. A big-boned outdoor effort it conjures images of green foliage and trees buffeted by the gusting North wind. The blowy oxygen-rich atmosphere reminds one of the spirit of Bridge's Friston Downs in Enter Spring. It's given a sensational and tingling performance by the composer and the RSNO. Just one example: the harp's violence really lifts the listeners' ears. Coruscations arose from a commission from Lancaster's Haffner Orchestra. The mise en scène is a midsummer evening in the Lake District uplands. Below there's the wide expanse of Morecambe Bay. Daylight fades, the stars are seen and the lights of the coastal towns glitter. These are the 'coruscations' of the title. Again the aural orientation is towards Sibelius and Hadley though another complement might be the second and flightier of the two Frank Bridge Jefferies poems.
By contrast Gigues seems superficially to recall Debussy. It arose because George Cottam of the Oldham Orchestral Society goaded Butterworth into writing "something with some tunes for a change." The result is this scherzo which flickers and stomps with propulsive power. It's a sort of impudently irrepressible Arnold-like piece: Chabrier's Espaņa meets Debussy's Gigues but in knowing 20th century dress.
The Fifth Symphony is said by Michael Dennison to be more classical and restrained than its predecessors. I wonder. It is pretty emotionally head-on and is not short on storms. The DNA of the three movement piece is clearly Sibelian with insurgencies from Bax and RVW. That initial stab momentarily suggests the rocking furiant from Dvorak 7 meeting the undulating moan of the Northern Forests. The wraiths of the slow movement recalls Arnold (Cornish Dances) in the decrepit wheelhouses, lichen, mist and mystery. You can cut the atmosphere with a knife. The finale is shaken with Tapiola gales and the tempests of RVW4. It ends in masterful self-abnegating fashion with tolling drums, calling horns and deep strings. Here is a composer who can end a piece ineluctably and with a natural and well rounded grace.
To hear a 1958 work like the Three Nocturnes after the 2002 symphony is to have emphasised how Butterworth has nurtured his language rather than chased fashion. Subtitled Northern Summer Nights, suggesting Stenhammar, the music is in fact woven from strands that shiver and haunt. The effect is quite Baxian when Bax was at his most mysterious as in the quieter sections of The Tale the Pine Trees Knew, The Enchanted Forest and Spring Fire. The first movement Midsummer Midnight is waywardly slow-pulsed. After a flightily impish and rather French-sounding Rain comes a movement with a long title The eerie, silent forest in the stealthy darkness. Why stealthy? It suggests a stalking hunt and that creepy character with glances over the shoulder by the prey. A spectral ostinato develops over which woodwind cast slow banners and pagan visions among the leaves and branches. This piece began as a piano suite but its orchestral effect is completely natural. Again this is atmospheric music at its most potent, in a steely yet delicate weave. The piece rises to an angry brassy eminence then fades into the misty tremble of the strings and the musing of the woodwind.
This mix of short orchestral poems and a major symphony whets the listener's appetite for more Butterworth. And there's more to come. We must keep our fingers crossed for health and time for more symphonies (2, 3 and 6) from this redoubtable symphonist. He has lived through fashion's neglect to see some turnaround. Dutton will surely want to record as much and as quickly with Butterworth as time and resources permit. There's certainly no lack of youthful vigour here. Those devoted Sibelians intent on exploring beyond even the capacious confines of the Bis Edition would do well to start with this disc.
Whets the listener's appetite for more Butterworth.