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Daniel JONES (1912-1993)
Symphony No.3 (1951) [28:29]
Symphony No.5 (1958) [39:33]
BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra/Bryden Thomson
rec. 1990, BBC studio recording
Reviewed as downloaded from press preview
LYRITA SRCD.390 [68:03]

I am going to make an assumption, at the outset of this review, that those who already know and love Daniel Jones’ music (and who have been collecting Lyrita’s series of releases of his music) need only hear that this latest release is well up to standard with good BBC sound buffed up for release and fine committed performances. For everybody else (which included myself before preparing this review), it might be helpful to provide some kind of introduction to this fascinating but neglected composer. So brace yourself for a distinctly novice guide to the music of Daniel Jones!

I will begin with a highly subjective response. Initially, I struggled a little to get a foothold in this densely complex music, where things seemed to be going on that I could only dimly grasp. I could understand and appreciate the technical and structural aspects of the music but not yet why they mattered. A sentence from an article by Kenneth Loveland quoted by Paul Conway in his helpful and comprehensive liner notes to this release gave me a way in: “The Fifth symphony was written at Jones’s home on the outskirts of Swansea high up on the Gower Peninsula in a room looking down on Oystermouth Castle and out over Swansea Bay.”

I have never had the pleasure of visiting the Gower peninsula but looking at photographs of it online, something clicked for me in terms of the character of his music. I am not saying that Jones wrote nature music but, in my subjective way, I began to hear something of the character of the landscape in the music, particularly the fifth symphony recorded here. Think of the indirect relationship between Sibelius’ symphonies and the landscape of Finland and you might get some idea of what I have in mind. I do not believe any music is wholly abstract and Jones, based on public statements, clearly believed that the most important aspects of his symphonies were the feelings they enshrined.

Continuing this subjective line, Jones’ music is not elemental in the way Sibelius’ can be but it does have its own quiet grandeur. As I listened, I imagined myself exploring the hidden coves of the Gower. This is music that most definitely requires repeated and careful listening before it reveals its particular pleasures. On the surface, these are sturdy, well-made orchestral works of a mostly tonal nature. The reader is, however, encouraged to go further.

I won’t rehearse here the facts of Daniel Jones’ life and career but refer you to Hubert Culot’s excellent and thorough profile here on MusicWeb.

A good place to start would be the second movement of the Fifth symphony, a scherzo in all but name. Jones’ orchestration is not flashy or particularly innovative but it is done with considerable craft. There is a wry wit here that belies the somewhat austere exterior of both works on this disc. This sounds rather like a Midsummer Night’s Dream with the darkness left in. It teems with inventive ways of developing the material. A more sombre trio section adds light and, above all, shade to the return of the scherzo material. Continuing my fantasy of the Gower peninsula, I wonder if those are its birds I hear in the woodwind writing? If so, the dark heavy brass would be its rocks and cliffs.

On the debit side, Jones does have a tendency to turn somewhat kapellmeisterisch at times. Both finales tend a little to longwindedness as the composer feels the need to work through every last ounce of the material’s potential. Related to this, there is little concession to the merely entertaining which can feel a little hairshirt at times. But these are minor quibbles with so much to enjoy.

Of the two performances on this disc, the Fifth seems to better capture the subtle strengths of this music. There are moments of ragged ensemble on both but the interpretation of the Third seems somewhat tentative in places, as though the performers were still feeling their way in to this highly complex music.

The opening movement of the Third is a very fine piece of writing, full of mystery, drama and ingenious detail and I felt that it was a little under-dramatised here. The Fifth is a more direct score and as a result Thomson and his band seem to have assimilated it better in what was, presumably, a fairly tight rehearsal schedule. Aside from the enchanting scherzo already mentioned, it has a noble, sadly elegiac slow movement. The orchestra’s woodwinds are more than a match for the plangent, haunting woodwind writing in both symphonies.

Thomson is a sensible and sensitive guide to this music, rather less dramatic than in his excellent, underrated Vaughan Williams cycle on Chandos (CHAN9087 - review - and separately) but again I suspect that is a consequence of lack of opportunities to perform this music. The paradox here is that without adequate rehearsal time and sufficient numbers of performances, performers are going to struggle to really grab the listener, but unless they do grab the listener, adequate rehearsal time and sufficient numbers of performances will not be forthcoming. Recordings like this are a crucial way of breaking out of that paradox and Lyrita and ultimately the BBC are to be thanked wholeheartedly for taking a risk on this music. As for the listener, there is no risk – this music is a real treat!

David McDade

Daniel Jones on Lyrita:
Symphonies Nos. 1 and 10 SRCD.358 Recording of the Month - review;
Symphonies Nos. 2 and 11 SRCD.364 - review;
Symphonies Nos. 4, 7 and 8 SRCD.329 - review;
Symphonies Nos. 6 and 9; The Country beyond the Stars SRCD.326 - review - review;
Dance Fantasy (with other Welsh dance music) SRCD.334 - review - review - review

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