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William WORDSWORTH (1908 – 1988)
Overture Conflict Op. 86 (1968) [9:28] (1)
Symphony No. 1 in F minor Op. 23 (1944) [33:45] (2)
Symphony No. 5 in A minor Op. 68 (1960) [29:53] (3)
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/James Loughran (Overture; Symphony No. 1) (2); Stewart Robertson (Symphony No. 5)
rec. broadcast, 17 January 1971 (Overture); 17 December 1968 (Symphony No.1); 22 August 1979 (Symphony No.5)
LYRITA REAM.1121 [73:06]

The composer William Wordsworth was born in London. By the age of twelve he realized that music was to be his life. He was sent to study harmony and counterpoint, together with three instruments (violin, piano and organ), with George Oldroyd from 1921 to 1931. He later became a pupil of Donald Tovey at Edinburgh University from 1934 to 1936 and dedicated his Second Symphony to him. At the outbreak of war he registered as a conscientious objector and spent several years working in agriculture. After the war his composing became prolific. His oeuvre includes eight symphonies, six string quartets, concertos for piano, violin and cello, orchestral works, instrumental music and songs. In 1961 he moved to Inverness-shire, and in 1966 helped found the Scottish Composer's Guild. He died at Kingussie in Scotland.

The present two symphonies are rooted in a tonal idiom although Paul Conway, in his accompanying notes, mentions that Wordsworth had no hesitation in making occasional use of quarter-tones and electronic tape when the situation called for it. Greatly under-estimated, there isn’t much of his music available on CD. Lyrita’s recording of Symphonies 2 and 3 with the London Philharmonic and Nicholas Braithwaite (SRCD207 - review) I’ve known for some time, and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend.

Wordsworth was in his mid-thirties when he composed his Symphony No. 1 in 1944. For a first endeavour in the medium, it is expertly scored, utilizing large forces. The five forceful and declamatory chords which open the work grab you by the scruff of the neck. The movement, as a whole, feels unsettled, dark and unrelenting, but there are some lyrical moments. The Adagio which follows provides some contrast, with the landscape depicting calm and serenity; Wordworth’s contrapuntal skill is very much in evidence. The whirling and coruscating Scherzo is restless in mood. After a brooding start the finale begins to hot up and gather pace, with some of the more forceful and combative elements of the first movement making a return. Sadly, the Symphony has never been treated to a public performance. It was premiered in the studio in 1946 by Julius Harrison and the BBC Northern Orchestra on the home service. It’s broadcast caused some dissent from listeners at the time, who complained to the Corporation. It did, however, find its advocates in Edward Sackville-West and Michael Kennedy. Surprisingly, the composer himself found it ‘long-winded’. The Lyrita disc's BBC broadcast from 1968 with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under James Loughran suffers from some background hiss and lack of brightness and colour, but is perfectly acceptable, constituting a valuable recorded historical document of a work not otherwise available.

The composition of the Symphony No. 5 occupied the composer between 1957 and 1960, and it was Sir Adrian Boult and the BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra who premiered it on the BBC Third Programme on 5 October 1962. It’s scored for a smaller orchestra than its predecessor. The first movement is lightly textured and sonorous, and what strikes me is the lovely woodwind writing, adding a wealth of colour to the proceedings. Stewart Robertson coaxes some exquisite playing from the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. Towards the end, a solo violin makes an appearance, tracing a melodious line over a delicate accompaniment. A magical, capricious middle movement shows an imaginative hand at percussion scoring. Harp, celesta and strings weave a diaphanous web of delight. As in the First Symphony, the finale opens with a dark largamente, here on the lower strings. There follows a sequence of characterful variations. The burnished brass interventions are impressive to say the least. Paul Conway’s description of the Symphony as a ‘riot of colour’ is apposite. I much prefer this symphony of the two, and the improved audio quality of this later 1979 broadcast is a positive advantage, giving the orchestral detail a more sharply defined profile.

The Overture ‘Conflict’ was a commission for the Guildford Festival of 1969, and premiered in the Civic Hall, Guildford on 16 March that year by the Guildford Philharmonic Orchestra under Vernon Handley. The contemporaneous Czechoslovakian invasion influenced the direction of the work. It is written for a large ensemble, and interjecting fanfares and polytonal discords inform the narrative. In fact, the score is largely dissonant. Malcolm Rayment commented that it "... has a harmonic tension such as we do not normally associate with this composer – it is an impressive work". James Loughran secures some assured playing from his band.

This is another gem from the Richard Itter Broadcast Collection and, as is frequently the norm, Paul Conway has provided the detailed annotations. The Symphony No. 5 is a stereo broadcast, whilst the other two items are in mono.

Stephen Greenbank

Previous reviews: Hubert Culot ~ John France



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