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William WORDSWORTH (1908-1988)
Orchestral Music - Volume 3
Cello Concerto, Op 73 (1963) [31:07]
Symphony No 5 in A minor, Op 68 (1957-60) [34:52]
Florian Arnicans (cello), Liepāja Symphony Orchestra/John Gibbons
Rec. 1-5 February 2021, Great Amber Concert Hall, Liepāja, Latvia

As Paul Conway points out in his excellent article on the composer, William Wordsworth “…is a composer whose music is an untapped resource”. Except for two CD’s on Lyrita from about thirty years ago of symphonies 2 and 3 (review) and numbers 1 and 5, and the Conflict Overture (review ~ review ~ review), this was basically true of the composer’s orchestral music until John Gibbons began his series on Toccata: Vol 1 (review ~ review) and Vol 2 (review ~ review), of which the present disc is the third volume.

To again quote Paul Conway, this time in the notes to this volume (which mostly repeats the aforementioned article), “Both works on this release date from a period when the composer was at the height of his creative powers…”, that is the late 50’s and early 60’s. The Cello Concerto was not written for a specific soloist, but because Wordsworth enjoyed writing for the cello. It’s first movement has four different subjects, which, in typical Wordsworth fashion, provide the thematic material for the entire piece. The cellist frequently plays in his lower register, and this, and some of the imaginative development, may remind listeners of the Bliss Cello Concerto. As in the composer’s Violin Concerto and Symphony No 2, there is a constant searching quality in the music, rather than a straightforward progress. Especially notable is the coda, a beautiful passage [13:17] for cello and a few instruments that dies away to end the movement.

The second movement is a Nocturne, with an introverted beginning that gradually becomes more lyrical and is then interrupted by a violent section for full orchestra. The return of the opening material is very moving, with fine writing for the woodwinds. These instruments continue to the fore in the opening of the last movement, providing a jaunty introduction to a set of variations on the motto theme. The music seems slightly folklike, but there are periodic intimations of more serious elements, leading to a central section full of conflict - first in the orchestra and then in a solo cadenza. The full orchestra returns and the music steadily becomes more optimistic until a final version of the motto theme that is almost whimsical.

The Symphony No 5 dates from two or three years before the Cello Concerto, but resembles the earlier Piano Concerto (1946) in its purposefulness and eventual optimism. Like the Cello Concerto, the symphony has a motto theme, which is complemented by a theme that first appears on the English horn and by a comprehensive chordal sequence. All three are heard early on and are presented with a pessimistic coloring that may remind the listener of the early symphonies of Malcolm Arnold. The development is austere but grows in power as the chordal sequence pulses steadily underneath the other two themes until there is a complete synthesis. Arnold fans will again feel right at home. A second development section now begins with the various orchestral sections playing against each other, interspersed with repeated violin solos. These lead to a solemn coda.

The Scherzo movement is very different from its predecessor-a blend of dissonance and a dance-like version of the motto theme in the scherzo proper and a central [trio] section almost supernatural in tone, based on another clever variant of the motto. The return of the scherzo heightens the emotional level almost to a sense of tragedy before a coda combining all the movement’s different elements. The rondo last movement starts with an introductory slow version of the motto theme which broadens in to a long fanfare in the movement proper which is alternated with the symphony’s other two elements. This leads to a truly noble development section. The fanfare material returns and the music gathers further rhythmic strength until the motto theme’s final statement. This is music that cannot fail to move the listener.

As with the previous two discs in Toccata’s series, John Gibbons is a most persuasive, one might almost say, loyal, advocate for Wordsworth’s music. He is in full command of the Liepaja orchestra in his pursuit of the composer’s all-important rhythmic pulse and sense of orchestral detail. Most important, he communicates his sense of the importance of Wordsworth’s music. Some listeners may prefer Stewart Robertson’s recording of Symphony No 5, mentioned above, but Gibbons benefits from a more modern recording. His performances are bound to make new admirers for the composer. By now, the Liepaja orchestra has Wordsworth’s music completely in their bloodstream and sound as if they have been playing it for decades. The woodwinds are always essential to the Wordsworth “sound”, both singly and in groups, and the Liepaja players acquit themselves well, as do the equally important xylophone and celesta players. It is fitting that the cello soloist on this disc is Florian Arnicans as his wife Arta Arnicane was the piano soloist on Vol. 2. He masters Wordsworth’s seriousness and occasional brittleness, but has a broad, rich tone when needed. I strongly hope Toccata is planning more entries in their Wordsworth series, and if so, a prime candidate would be his Symphony No 7 (Cosmos), as well as some of the shorter orchestral works.

William Kreindler

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