Like the other twentieth-century British symphonists I've
been surveying Gordon Jacob relies on short motifs susceptible
to development, within a conservative (tonal) harmonic framework,
and knows how to use orchestral color for expressive purposes.
He draws from a slightly different well of musical gestures,
however, to "speak" in a voice distinctly his own.
The first thing you notice is that the orchestral textures are
unusually clean. It's as if the composer started with
a very clear idea of the type of sonority he wanted, and, without
a wasted note, precisely and efficiently deploys the available
orchestral resources to build it - rather as Mahler did, although
the actual result is quite different. In the turbulent tuttis
of the symphonies' outer movements, the uncluttered sound
avoids, for example, Edmund Rubbra's unwieldy busy-ness
in comparable passages, and lends the lyric themes an almost
Classical austerity and restraint.
In other respects, too, Jacob stands above some of his better-known
compatriots. His concise structures avoid William Alwyn's
occasional discursiveness, and his themes are more strongly
profiled than those by Arnold Bax.
In the five-movement First Symphony, billed as a world premiere
recording, the first two movements sound more cosmopolitan than
distinctly "English". The clean outlines of the opening
movement almost suggest an ear-friendly Neoclassicism; if you'd
told me that it was a little-known work by, say, Walter Piston,
I'd eventually have believed you. The second movement,
Lento e mesto, is sad and solemn - corresponding to
my own notion of "mesto" - with a touch of
formality. It's in the third movement, a scherzo that
starts out perky and gradually turns ominous, that the composer
begins veering towards the language and aesthetic of his compatriots.
This continues through the tripartite, vaguely modal Larghetto
and the energetic rondo finale.
The Second Symphony's slow, searching introduction sounds
vaguely American, hinting at Copland's wide-open spaces
and Bernstein's yearning fourths. The main Allegro
molto is buoyant and exuberant, its irregular scansion
spicing up the basic triple time, with the second subject resuming
the questing pose. The prayerful Adagio molto, harmonically
unsettled, gradually builds to a full-throated outpouring before
settling back. Jacob perhaps miscalculates with his bubbling,
volatile Scherzo, which ends so emphatically that one
is surprised to hear the finale begin! That finale, an extended
Ground, nonetheless skilfully weaves its varied colours
and harmonies into a satisfying whole.
My previous encounter with Barry Wordsworth - a slapdash Scheherazade
in Tring's "Royal Philharmonic Collection"
- was unpromising, so I'm pleased to report that he does
a nice job with these two symphonies. The low brass can get
heavy in their melodic phrases in the Second Symphony, where
ensemble sounds marginally less secure than in the rock-solid
First, but overall the LPO plays handsomely and with commitment.
The recording - an original digital production, unlike some
other Lyrita releases - is vivid and colourful, with rich, deep
Stephen Francis Vasta
Stephen Francis Vasta is a New York-based conductor, coach,
See also reviews by John
Barnett and extended Jacob article by Geoff