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John GARDNER (1917-2011)
Symphony No. 2 in E flat, Op. 166 (1984-85) [32:07]
John VEALE (1922-2006)
Symphony No. 2 in D minor (1965) [35:49]
Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Martin Yates
rec. 3-4 June 2016, RSNO Centre, Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow

All credit to Dutton for getting this disc of recording premieres issued and out to the market in double-quick time. It's remarkable that at the time I was listening to this disc it had been less than two months ago that the recording sessions took place.

While I am still less than happy with Dutton's long-established scheme of placing works by different composers on one disc - not that they do it all the time - this is one of their most illustrious successes. It brings together two symphonies written in the age of modernism but keyed into beauty and valour expressed through tonal means.

This virile recording of the John Gardner Second Symphony completes his symphonic trilogy on disc. The First Symphony is on Naxos and the Third on ASV. You can read Paul Conway's rewarding article on the three Gardner symphonies here. John Quinn's review of the Naxos disc can be read here.

The four-movement Gardner work stays true to the dramatic-melodious and broadly accommodating traditions of the British musical renaissance. It's never a work anywhere near the pastoral-mysticism of Finzi, Howells and Hadley. Ploughing its eclectic and convincing way it absorbs traditions from Nielsen, Arnold and Shostakovich and expresses them personally and fluently. The Moderato recalls the rhapsodising gloom of the opening of Bax's Third Symphony but soon sings and wings onwards in tropes familiar from Nielsen and Sibelius. After a fantastic Scherzo of which Malcolm Arnold would have been proud there's a long misty-romantic Andante — the longest of the four movements — with surging and striving strings. The finale moves through a variety of voices, all intriguing: something close to Kurt Weill's writing for orchestra, sweeping strings in line with Franz Schmidt and again quite a lot that suggests a love for the music of Nielsen. In 1952 Gardner had his orchestral Variations on a Waltz by Carl Nielsen premiered at the Cheltenham Festival by the Hallé and Barbirolli. The Symphony ends in crashing triumph.

John Veale has had scant representation in the CD catalogue. First came his Violin Concerto on Chandos. Add to this various discs presenting his chamber music. If Gardner, at least at a superficial level, references the sounds of other contemporary and composers, Veale is more instantly individual; not that he lacks for his own absorbed heritage. However his influences appear to me to be more structurally resolved. There is something filmic about this music: a straining fine romanticism and heroism that at times, like that of William Alwyn and Stanley Bate, is vividly communicative. His teacher during his years in the USA, Roy Harris, also puts in unmistakable appearances at times. Harris's Third, Fourth (the non-vocal sections) and Seventh symphonies are a benign presence. There's also a shade of Constant Lambert in Veale's steely slender lyrical writing for violins. The Andante recalls the suppressed and sewn-up emotions of a Bernard Herrmann film score. The Allegro finale is energetic yet alive with musical pith; Walton comes to mind as does Bate's Third Symphony. Don't be put off by this litany of names. Veale deserves better than my crude comparisons. The Second Symphony was premiered by Ruth Gipps and her London Repertoire Orchestra.

What we now urgently need is a Veale orchestral collection including the compact but heroically emotional First Symphony (1947 rev. 1951), Panorama (1949), The Metropolis (1954), Elegy (1951) and Clarinet Concerto (1953). I have heard three of those works in archive recordings and they would make an instant hit. There's a great deal more to be tackled after that.

The satisfying notes, rich in facts, alien to padding, are in the case of the Veale by Dutton's music adviser, Lewis Foreman. He is the doyen of advocate-communicators among the British music scene - and beyond. At one time, in the 1960s, he laboured in obscurity. Much that seemed a no-hope prospect in those days has now turned into a listening reality. He has seen a remarkable quality and quantity of music brought to recording from the realms of academic research to practical sing-in-the-bath reality and has the satisfaction of knowing he has helped bring this about. Chris Gardner wrote the equally helpful notes about the Gardner symphony.

There is now a very good Veale website here.

Sound quality is excellent. You never have to grit your teeth to get to know two such rare and deserving works. The performances are up there with the best.

Two grand and triumphantly tonal symphonies written in an era of modernist abstraction.

Rob Barnett



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