thoughtful, emotionally fleet and powerfully recorded
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Daniel JONES (1912-1993)
Symphony No.2 (1950) [43:23]
Symphony No.11 ‘In Memoriam George Froom Tyler’ (1983) [18:44]
BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra/Bryden Thomson
rec. BBC Studio, 19 January 1990; 30 March 1990. ADD stereo. LYRITA SRCD.364 [62:08]
With this release Lyrita have now made nine of Daniel Jones’ thirteen symphonies available on CD. Their most recent release coupled the First Symphony (1947) and the Tenth (1981) (review). Prior to that there was a disc of the Sixth (1964) and Ninth (1974) (review). Another disc contained the Fourth (1954), Seventh (1972) and Eighth (1972) (review). I was pleased to read in the booklet that this Jones cycle will be completed during 2017 and 2018 with releases of Symphonies 3, 5, 12 and 13.
The Second Symphony was one of five works by Welsh composers commissioned for the 1951 Festival of Britain by what was then the Arts Council of Great Britain. I don’t know if the selected composers were allowed to choose the genre in which they composed but Jones was the only one of the five who produced a symphony. He scored the work for a large orchestra, including a sizeable array of percussion instruments – henceforth percussion would always feature in his symphonic writing. The symphony is slightly shorter than the First but still on a substantial scale; after this Jones’ symphonies were all much more compressed, at least in terms of duration.
Initially, the tone of the first movement, Allegro moderato, is quite brusque; the scoring is fairly full-on and the rhythmic impetus is very strong. At around 1:30 a calmer passage occurs, the first of a few such episodes; however, it’s the rhythmic propulsion of much of the writing that caught my attention most strongly. As usual, Paul Conway’s notes provided me with an excellent guide to the music I was hearing. He’s especially helpful in providing signposts in unfamiliar music and one such example is the way he draws attention to the series of trombone glissandi (at 3:56) which introduce the development – this interesting detail of scoring recurs later on.
The slow movement is introduced by the woodwind. Thanks to Mr Conway, I identified that the time signature alternates between 9/8 and 5/8. This constant shift of metre from bar to bar brings restlessness, even instability, to the music, I think. Apparently, the main theme of this movement is marked nobilmente, a favourite marking in Elgar’s music. We’re a long way from Elgar, though; Jones’ music is searching in tone and dark hues predominate in the scoring. The scherzo is fleet of foot. Here the time signature is pretty regular (I think) but the rhythms are still restless and capable of surprising the listener. The players need to be alert and, happily, the BBC Welsh musicians are not found wanting. Explosive accents and dissonances add spice to the mix. There’s a slower trio (3:41-6:15) which provides good contrast.
The finale is the longest of the movements. There’s an introduction in which solo horn and oboe are prominent, before the main Allegro risoluto gets into its stride. At 2:20 a charming second subject is heard, initially over irregular “oompah” brass. This idea is light and pleasing though it’s frequently interrupted by more assertive short passages. This movement seems to me to be an interesting debate, if you will; a more extrovert side of Daniel Jones seems to be pitted against his more intellectually rigorous nature. Hereabouts a figure recurs several times that put me very much in mind of Walton though I’m sure this passing resemblance is purely coincidental. I particularly appreciated a most attractive episode (6:12 – 8:17), which is led off by the oboe. Here Jones recalls and expands the material of the movement’s introduction. The movement achieves a strong and powerful conclusion.
The Eleventh Symphony was commissioned by the Swansea Festival and was premiered in the city’s Brangwyn Hall in October 1984. Jones dedicated it to the memory of his friend, George Froom Tyler, the chairman of the festival committee who had passed away in 1983, the year in which Jones wrote the symphony. It’s in four movements and features an even larger orchestra than the one stipulated for the Second Symphony.
The first movement is marked Intensivo and that’s apt for this earnest, unsettled music. The music has no little power; climaxes are dissonant, even strident, though very effective contrast is provided through some quieter episodes. The scherzo lasts a mere 97 seconds. It’s an essay in precise and light-footed music, which Thomson and his team despatch very successfully.
The slow movement is marked Elegiaco. It opens with intense string writing, sustained over several pages. That establishes the mood for the entire movement which is a fine and eloquent composition. The finale is brief and trenchantly argued. There’s no padding at all and, to be honest, the end comes up on the listener as something of a surprise. For some strange reason the conclusion put me in mind of the end of the Vaughan Williams’ Ninth though the sound worlds are completely different – Jones has no washes of sound around his last chords, still less any saxophones in the orchestra, Paul Conway describes the Eleventh as “flinty and terse” which I think hits the nail squarely on the head.
Both symphonies are played with assurance and commitment by the BBC Welsh Symphony under the guiding hand of Bryden Thomson, a known and persuasive advocate for this composer’s symphonies.
These two performances represent further treasure trove from Richard Itter’s vast archive of off-air recordings from BBC broadcasts. The sound is good although it seemed to me to be just a bit close and ’in your face’. Out of interest I sampled again another Itter/BBC recording that I’ve been enjoying recently: George Lloyd’s Sixth Symphony (review). That recording was made in 1980, 10 years earlier than these Jones recordings. However, in the Lloyd recording though the sound is punchy there’s also significantly more space around the orchestra than we experience in these 1990 Welsh recordings. I don’t know where the Daniel Jones recordings were made but the difference in sound is probably explained by the acoustics of the respective buildings - the Lloyd was set down in Studio 7, New Broadcasting House, Manchester, which I remember as a modern studio with quite a high ceiling. It’s possible also that the sound achieved for the BBC Welsh reflected the style of the BBC engineers who worked in Cardiff at the time. I don’t believe these recordings will seriously disappoint anyone but I don’t think they’re as pleasing as the results achieved in Manchester a decade earlier.
I’ve heard all of Lyrita’s Daniel Jones releases. I’m increasingly coming to the view that his symphonies inspire respect in me rather than affection. I don’t say that to belittle the music in any way; Jones was a highly intellectual, rigorous composer, full of good, original thematic ideas and possessed of the intellectual rigour to develop and explore those ideas. He was, furthermore, a composer with an imaginative feel for orchestration. However, despite his melodic gifts he was no crowd-pleaser: this serious composer was, above all, true to himself. I think I’ve now heard enough of his symphonies to convince me that he was a significant contributor to 20th century British symphonic literature. Lyrita are performing a valuable service by making all of his symphonies available on disc.
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