CD REVIEW by Simon Wright


B.B.C. Carlton Classics 15656 91952

The BBC has probably the largest and richest non-commercial sound archive in the world, and it is heartening to see items from it now being made available on CD: the "BBC Radio Classics" from Carlton Classics. British music has benefited particularly from this series, with both rare, and classic, repertoire being made available in vintage and carefully selected performances - mining the archive in the truest sense. Rawsthorne has already been well served with a disc containing the Piano Concerto No.2, and the Two Piano Concerto. Now comes a further CD devoted entirely to the composer, embracing not only both violin concertos, but also the Divertimento and the Improvisations on a Theme by Constant Lambert. None of these works represented here is currently available on disc, but how interesting it will be eventually to compare this compilation with the recording forthcoming from Naxos, which will also include the violin concertos in modern BBC recordings!

The performance of the Violin Concerto No.1 was recorded at the opening concert of the 1972 Cheltenham Festival, and is played by the Dutch violinist Theo Olof, with the New Philharmonia Orchestra under Sir Adrian Boult. Olof had given the premiere of the work, also in Cheltenham, exactly twenty four years earlier, and since then never tired of its poised balance between brooding unease and singing lyricism. So it is good and right that the man whose concerto this really was, and who loves it, should be rewarded with a wonderfully re-mastered presentation of this interpretation on disc.

The oldest recording here dates from 1968 - Manoug Parikian playing the second concerto with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Rudolf Schwarz. This work was written in 1956 and seems to be a darker, more introspective exploration of the relationship between soloist and orchestra than its sunnier older sibling. Parikian captures the mood of the work's subdued restraint wonderfully using, incidentally, his own splendidly mellow-toned 1681 Stradivarius. The Maida Vale studio recording is fresh and immediate.

Rawsthome delivered the short Divertimento to Harry Blech in 1962, for his London Mozart Players - then on course to become one of the leading ensembles of its kind. Rawsthorne's score epitomises Blech's pioneering venture, and the 'neoclassical' ethos of the orchestra's work during the 1960s. Blech conducted the first performance in Cambridge, in 1962, but the recording presented here was given seventeen years later by Bryden Thomson (unfortunately mis-spelled on the booklet cover) and the BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra. The reading, lively and well characterized (particularly in the delightful concluding 'Jig' - electric and almost Tippett-like in its sinewy energy), but there are a few scrappy moments (for example, in the high string writing around 2'30" in the 'Rondo').

The deep and oft-times complex friendship between Constant Lambert and Rawsthorne was celebrated in the 1960 Improvisations - inspired by a theme from Lambert's final ballet Tiresias (on which Rawsthorne himself helped with scoring).

This is almost a mini-concerto for orchestra; the many exposed passages for single instruments, or groups of instruments, are all expertly dispatched by the BBC Concert Orchestra members, under Frank Shipway. Yet the sum total of the whole is a work inscrutable and mysterious moods successfully encapsulated by Shipway in this, for me, the disc's most memorable item.

Simon Wright

(Dr Simon Wright is Manager of the Oxford University Press Hire Library)

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