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Daniel JONES (1912-1993)
Symphony No. 1 (1947) [50:17]
Symphony No. 10 (1981) [19:27]
BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra/Bryden Thomson
rec. BBC studio, 12 January 1990 (1); 16 March 1990 (10)
LYRITA SRCD358 [69:44]

With this release the Lyrita label continues to champion the symphonies of Welsh composer Daniel Jones. Symphonies Six and Nine plus the cantata The Country Beyond the Stars were released on CD in 2004 (review) and Symphonies Four, Seven and Eight in 2007 (review). Here Lyrita Recorded Edition has licensed a pair of BBC broadcast studio recordings from 1990 of the First and Tenth Symphonies with Bryden Thomson conducting the BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra.

Over the years I made great endeavours to attend concerts of twentieth century British symphonies, performances largely given by BBC orchestras. I fondly recall hearing symphonies by Arnold Bax, George Lloyd (conducted by the composer), Alun Hoddinott, Alan Rawsthorne, Richard Arnell, Malcolm Arnold (conducted by the composer), Wilfred Josephs and several others but sadly I was never able to be present at performances of any of the thirteen symphonies by Daniel Jones. So the Lyrita releases have been and remain indispensable in my search for understanding of the composer.

Jones, with his own characteristic approach, writes accessible, largely tonal music although he did employ serial techniques. Predominant in Jones' compositional method is his use of “complex metres” forming irregular rhythmic patterns that often create a disturbing and anxious atmosphere. Each of his first twelve symphonies is based on one of the twelve notes of the chromatic scale. It has been put forward that his music falls between two stools being too progressive for conventionalists yet too traditional for the avant-garde.

Jones' robust Symphony No. 1, scored for a large orchestra, was written over the period 1944/47 and is his lengthiest symphony. Powerful and determined, the squally opening movement Allegro moderato strongly reminds me of a stormy seascape near rocky cliffs. The prevailing dark tension is brightened by several episodes of welcome calm. The slow movement, centred on two main themes, opens in a deeply mournful mood like a funeral procession. A brass heavy fanfare at 5.41-6.10 comes as a welcome relief. After this the tense music contains more of an understated emotion. The Scherzo could easily be a scene from Shakespeare’s play A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a ravishing elfin world. Intonation from the horns is slightly suspect in a central brass heavy section. In the Finale: Allegro the deliberate tread of the introduction up to point 2.45 provides a strong sense of anticipation. A sense of nobility imbues the writing, shot through predominantly with darkness and anxiety.

The concise Symphony No. 10, composed in 1981, has been singled out from the other symphonies for special praise by music writer Mark Morris. A redoubtable work of restrained rage and anxiety, each of its four movements contains a shaft of sunlight. In the Solennne movement a short but menacing bray on the horns is conspicuous at the opening, followed by a single bell strike and these establish a dark, pessimistic yet dramatic mood. A slight Latin feel to the threatening, heavily percussive rhythms of the short Minacciando movement reminded me of Chávez and Halffter. The slow movement, marked Serioso and in the form of a passacaglia, is essentially gloomy and tense, conveying an airless rather claustrophobic feel. The writing of the Finale: Agitato takes on a squally and gravely anxious quality. In the coda bell strikes, with material from the opening movement present, herald a more intense darkness.

The BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Bryden Thomson is certainly committed, offering reasonably well characterised performances. The playing could be tidier; ideally with more polish. These BBC studio recordings from 1990 are acceptably clear and balanced although I wanted more depth in the First Symphony. Paul Conway, an authority on Jones, is the author of the enlightening booklet essay. Also included is a list of contemporaneous British symphonies from the years 1947 and 1981. It is announced in the notes that Lyrita is preparing for release in 2017/18 recordings of Jones' symphonies 2, 3, 5, 11, and 12, once again with Bryden Thomson conducting the BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra. In addition Lyrita is in talks with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales to make available Jones' final offering in the genre his SymphonyIn memoriam John Fussell’ (in effect No. 13) which has been broadcast in performances by conductors Richard Hickox in 1992 and Tecwyn Evans in 2016.

These two fine symphonies from Lyrita demonstrate that the music of Daniel Jones merits wider circulation.

Michael Cookson

Previous review: John Quinn (Recording of the Month)



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