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William WORDSWORTH (1908 – 1988)
Overture Conflict Op.86 (1968) [9:28]MONO a
Symphony No.1 in F minor Op.23 (1944) [33:45]MONO a
Symphony No.5 in A minor Op.68 (1960) [29:53] STEREOb
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/James Loughrana, Stewart Robertsonb
rec. broadcast, 17 January 1971 (Overture), 17 December 1968 (Symphony No.1) and 22 August 1979 (Symphony No.5)
LYRITA REAM.1121 [73:06]

William Wordsworth was a most distinguished composer with a sizeable output exceeding the one hundred mark. His eight symphonies, composed between 1944 and 1986, are the backbone of his output of which too little is still available in commercial recordings. There have been a few discs released during the LP era that have not been reissued in CD format, some chamber music recently presented by Lyrita notwithstanding. One should also mention a splendid Lyrita disc (SRCD 207) of the Second and Third Symphonies. More recently still some more chamber music has been recorded by the British Music Society and is now available on Naxos. Even so, many substantial works including the concertos, the string quartets and some of the symphonies — the Sixth awaits its first performance — remain unrecorded. This new release in Richard Itter's broadcast collection is thus most welcome.

Wordsworth's Symphony No.1 in F minor Op.23 was completed in 1944. It is a substantial work in four movements. The opening Allegro maestoso opens with five massive brass chords leading into the first statement of the main Allegro subject, a strongly articulated and angular theme giving way to a calmer second subject. The entire movement develops these elements before rushing towards what Paul Conway aptly describes as a truncated recapitulation and a terse and trenchant coda. The mood of the opening movement is forceful, aggressive and it may not be too fanciful to imagine that it is a reflection of the difficult war years. The ensuing second movement is for the most part a beautiful meditation with a rather more dramatic central section recalling elements from the first movement. The third movement is a short, vehement Scherzo not without some biting irony. The final movement is somewhat longer. After a slow, menacing introduction the Allegro main theme returns to the “combative mood of the first movement, whose chief idea recurs in the development section” (Paul Conway). The music eventually reaches a positive conclusion but one not easily achieved. Wordsworth's first symphony is a powerful, often gripping and tightly argued work that undoubtedly did much to demonstrate Wordsworth's stature as a symphonist.

Completed in 1960 Wordsworth's Symphony No.5 in A minor Op.68 provides quite a contrast when heard after the forceful expressive world of the First Symphony. It, too, is strongly argued but the composer's maturity allows him to write with greater freedom both in terms of form and in style. The music here is for the most part airy, colourful, rhythmic and quite often richly melodic. However, it is by no means a lighter work even if its mood may be easy-going; I do not know whether I am the only one to feel so but the music sometimes brings Malcolm Arnold's to mind. “The Fifth is a riot of colour and seemingly unstoppable invention, yet all stemming from the same source” (Paul Conway). That same source is “a strong theme which thrusts upwards on cellos and basses at the outset” and each movement actually explores one aspect of that theme but one hardly notices it because of the sheer invention displayed from first to last in this accessible and very often beautiful piece.

Completed in 1968 — at about the time of the invasion of Czechoslovakia — the Overture “Conflict” Op.86 might all-too-easily be experienced as programme music. The composer denied any such programme although it is difficult not to think of some subliminal idea of the kind. The composer, however, rather suggested that the “conflict” of the title is more that between the dead weight of static authority and the desire of the human spirit to develop in freedom. Again, this is a short, energetic work that might be compared to Malcolm Arnold's Peterloo Overture although less blatantly descriptive here than in Arnold's piece.

Again, this release from Richard Itter's broadcast collection is most welcome in that it fills an important gap in Wordsworth's discography and, by so doing, allows for a better assessment of this most distinguished composer's achievement. The transfers made by Abbey Road Studios are quite remarkable and these recordings still sound remarkably well. Once again I also want to single out Paul Conway's well-informed notes from which I have liberally quoted.

Hubert Culot



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