George Lloyd’s Surprisingly Good Symphonies

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LLOYD: Symphonies Nos. 6 & 7 (“Proserpine”) / BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra; Edward Downes, conductor / Lyrita 1135

Here’s an odd recording: the sixth and seventh symphonies of somewhat obscure British composer George Lloyd (1913-1998) conducted by the late Edward Downes. The recording of the Sixth Symphony comes from a BBC studio performance of December 31, 1980, the Seventh from a similar performance of September 15, 1979.

Lloyd and his wife Nancy made their living as “market gardeners,” raising and selling carnations and mushrooms. They made enough to keep alive and allow George to write his music. Following his artistic credo, “I just write what I have to write,” Lloyd sort of popped in and out of the British music scene from the early 1930s until the time of his death. John Ireland was an early advocate; Sir Charles Groves programmed some of his works in the 1950s and early ‘60s; but he never really caught on with the public, despite his strong proclivity towards tonality, until the early 1980s when Downes began performing and recording his works. Lloyd’s two principal influences were Berlioz and Verdi, but he really didn’t sound like either. He followed his own muse with sometimes surprising results, such as the deeply-felt, forlorn slow movement of the Sixth Symphony with its craggy melodic line, somewhat reminiscent of a slightly more modern Mendelssohn. Lloyd really did know what he was about, too, using slightly edgy string and wind figures to play opposite the lyrical melody.

The sprightly, mostly lyrical Sixth, written in 1956, was followed by the epic, dramatic Seventh. Typical of a composer who wrote mostly for himself, it was penned in 1957-59 but languished on Lloyd’s desk until 1974 when he finally got around to orchestrating it. This sounds like a completely different composer; the music is exceptionally colorful in orchestration, showing the influence of Berlioz, and here Lloyd uses more dissonance though not enough to brand him as a modernist in the Stravinskian mold. Themes are more obscure and diffuse, which makes them better fodder for variations as each of the three large movements (15:26, 14:26 and 20:28) unfold. The orchestral forces called for are also huge, including triple woodwinds, four horns, three each of trumpets and trombones and four percussion players. The symphony was influenced by the Greek legend of Proserpine, which Lloyd wrote “seems to tell us something about the human condition of having one foot on this earth and another somewhere else – wherever that may be.” The legend is that Proserpine, the daughter of Ceres and Jupiter, lived in isolation amid beautiful flowers and limpid streams before Pluto whisked her off to the underworld where she became his queen.

In his early years Lloyd had aims to be an opera composer, his Iermin and John Socman having a brief but spirited vogue, but it was not to be. His symphonies thus became his surrogate operas, and the “Proserpine” symphony is most definitely one of these. The extraordinarily colorful music is both emotionally appealing and intellectually stimulating, including several dramatic moments. By and large, it almost sounds like the work of an entirely different composer from the Sixth. Distant trumpets, swirling clarinets and a plentiful use of the percussion section—triangle, woodblocks and xylophone in addition to the tympani—are hallmarks of this work. The third movement, which is the slow one (“Largo”), felt as if it were dragging somewhat, but the last movement—for all its great length—is like a miniature world in itself, dramatic and powerful.

All in all, this is a stunning achievement and a tribute to the indomitable spirit of both composer and conductor. Recommended for those who think great modern symphonies can’t be tonal!

—© 2017 Lynn René Bayley

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Ysaÿe’s Violin Sonatas Smolder Under Weintraub

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YSAŸE: Violin Sonatas Nos. 1-6 / Javier Weintraub, violinist / Acoua 507

Back on March 8 of this year, I wrote a rave review of Tianwa Yang’s recording of these sonatas, proclaiming them the the best I’d ever heard. I still stand by that judgment, but in listening to Argentinian violinist Javier Weintraub play them I am also quite impressed. He has found something different, something darker and more intimate. Whereas Yang gives us playing at or near white heat, Weintraub smolders beneath the surface. He has obviously lived with and though about this music a great deal; he is certainly not just “reading” through the score.

Moreover, he is willing to take risks in his playing, even if this means a less-than-smooth sound as in the last movement of the first sonata. You get the impression that he’s not holding back anything emotionally, but that he occasionally chooses to subjugate his passion for the sake of something boiling just beneath the surface. It’s like Eddie Condon’s description of the playing of Bix Beiderbecke, “like capping a geyser.” In some of the virtuosic passages, i.e. the beginning of the last movement of the Sonata No. 2, Weintraub uncaps that geyser, suddenly spouting notes like a demon unleashed. He almost has a Gypsy feel to his playing in moments like this.

This is violin playing of an extremely high level. I was continually engaged while listening, and that is always a sure sign that the performer has a firm grasp of his or her material. Recommended as an alternative to the Yang recordings.

No, it’s not a lengthy review, but I said what I wanted to say about it!

—© 2017 Lynn René Bayley

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Lakatos & Lagrène’s Tribute to Grappelli & Reinhardt

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TRIBUTE TO STÉPHANE & DJANGO / REINHARDT-GRAPPELLI: Djangology. Tears. Minor Swing. REINHARDT: Nuages. Troublant Bolero. Nuits de Saint-Germain de Près. LAKATOS: Mr. Grappelli. SCHMITT-WINTERSTEIN: Mimosa. YOUNG: Stella By Starlight. NOBLE: Cherokee / Roby Lakatos, vln/dm; Biréli Lagrène, Andreas Varady gtr; Niek de Bruijn, dm; Modern Art Orchestra; Kornél Fekete-Kovács, leader / Avanti Jazz 10532

Being a huge fan of Stéphane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt, as well as a fan of Bireli Lagrène, I looked forward to this tribute album with bated breath. Well, I shouldn’t have bated my breath quite so much, because the duo of Lakatos and Lagrène have corrupted this tribute with a run-of-the-mill, splashy big band that sounds too heavy and intrudes on the mood.

One of the great delights of listening to the original Reinhardt-Grappelli Hot Club Quintet is that they did not sound heavy and lumpy. Their jazz swung with lightness and precision as well as tremendous invention, and even on those rare occasions when Django played with a French or a Dutch big band, said band fell into his style and complemented him perfectly. But the Modern Art Orchestra blasts unremittently. They have no subtlety, their arrangements are thick and generic. They sound like the old Tonight Show band under Doc Severinsen on a bad day, playing bumper music for an ad break. Just listen to their wholly unimaginative arrangement of Tears, surely one of Reinhardt’s most touching and original tunes. Moreover, they hog too much of the playing time, only giving Lakatos and Lagrène a chance for spot solos. The only track that worked was Cherokee, and that only because they played the wonderful old Charlie Barnet arrangement from 1940.

This is a shame because Lakatos is as good a Grappelli substitute as you are likely to hear. His playing swings, it’s imaginative, and it’s virtuosic. He has heart and soul in everything he plays. As for Lagrène, he plays electric guitar here but not with the hard downstrokes that Django used, so his overall sound is is much softer than his model, but his solos are consistently interesting. Were the big band not continually sticking its thumb in the eye of the music, this might have been an extremely fine album. I was delighted by the performance of Nuages, at least the first two minutes of it, because it was just Lakatos and Legrène with the rhythm section. Then the band comes in to spoil the mood; happily, they hang back most, but not all, of the time on this one, and the violinist in particular is simply brilliant.

Now, mind you, I have no complaint about updating the Reinhardt-Grappelli style somewhat. Frank Vignola has done just that over the past 30 years, and indeed Django himself updated his style to include a great deal of bop in the last five years of his life. There was a tasteful way of doing this, but unfortunately whoever produced this album (it’s a live session) should have had his jazz credentials taken away from him.

For examples of what I mean, listen to Troublant Boléro, Mimosa and Stella By Starlight, three tracks where the orchestra sits out completely. In the first we hear some pretty spectacular pizzicato violin playing and a little nifty electronic feedback from guitarist Lagrène, and in the second the duo and the rhythm section really take off, flying like seasoned aces without a parachute. Great stuff! Stella starts out like a straightforward ballad, but before long the duo doubles the tempo and sets up an outstanding duet, with backup guitarist Andreas Varady playing some surprisingly funky licks behind Lakatos and Lagrène in their solos. And is Lagrène good on this track, or what? Django would have been proud of him. He swings, he’s bluesy, and he’s quite daring. Thanks to the afore-mentioned Barnet arrangement, plus the fact that the orchestra sits out much of the track, Cherokee also flies high, including a superb and unidentified (to me) trumpet solo.

Bottom line: if the producers of this concert and disc had wanted an orchestra to fit the proper style, they should have hired a different band, either an interesting and lighter group or the Bratislava Hot Serenaders, who can play virtually every kind of big-band jazz from Paul Whiteman to Duke Ellington with perfect feeling and style. The “Modern Art Orchestra” is a bullshit organization, playing bullshit jazz in a bullshit style. Recommended for the playing of the principals only.

So there.

—© 2017 Lynn René Bayley

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Interesting New Recording of Stravinsky’s “Nightingale”

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STRAVINSKY: Le Rossignol. Pribaoutki (Chansons plaisantes).* Deux Poèmes de Paul Verlaine+ / Mojca Erdmann, soprano (Nightingale); Evgeny Akimov, tenor (Fisherman); Marina Pridenskaya, contralto (Cook); Vladimir Vaneev, bass (Emperor); Tuomas Pursio, bass (Chamberlain); Fyodor Kuznetsov, bass (Bonze); Mayram Sokolova, contralto (Death); *Katrin Wundsam, mezzo-soprano; +Hans Christoph Begemann, baritone; WDR Rundfunkchor & Sinfonieorchester Köln; Jukka-Pekka Saraste, conductor / Orfeo C 919 171A

Stravinsky’s early opera has received many recordings over the years, due largely to its being one of his most attractive and accessible works, but it has seldom been as well cast as on Stravinsky’s old stereo recording from 1960 or ’61, with the vastly underrated tenor Loren Driscoll as the Fisherman, Herbert Beattie as the Bonze, Donald Gramm as the Emperor and the wonderful Reri Grist as the Nightingale. But as we know, Stravinsky was really just an OK conductor—certainly not bad, but unless someone else helped him out with the rehearsals of his works he often did not get as much out of his own music as others. Thus his recordings are largely valuable for his view of the music at any given time, and this often changed and slowed down as he got older.

I still consider Stravinsky’s Rossignol to be the reference recording, however, due to the superlative cast. On this new version, we have two singers who rather struggle vocally: tenor Evgeny Akimov as the Fisherman, whose voice sounds tight and a bit strained throughout, and contralto Marina Pridenskaya as the Cook, whose voice has a terrible flutter. Happily, however, the Cook’s role is a small one, and she is soon gone, hopefully to fall into a vat of cooked beets in the kitchen. This leaves only Akimov as the singer who disconcerts one every time he opens his mouth.

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Mojca Erdmann

On the plus side, however, we have an absolutely astounding soprano, Mojca Erdmann, as the Nightingale. This role is so technically difficult (thought not as showy as many a bel canto role that’s half as hard) that it is often assigned to the highest and often most brittle-sounding of “coloratura” sopranos, but Erdmann surprises one with a voice of considerable warmth, particularly in the mid-range, and she has both musicianship and technique to spare. In some respects she reminded me of Edda Moser, although her voice is not quite as dark. The other singers are all excellent, especially dark-voiced contralto Mayram Sokolova as Death and bass Vladimir Vaneev, who sang a splendid Boris Godunov many years ago on the Valery Gergiev recording of the complete opera, as the Emperor.

But as you may suspect, I am saving the best for last. Saraste has such a firm grasp of this score that it almost unreels itself like a spool of thread. By this I mean that nothing in the score, which still strikes the ear as a bit quirky despite the early date of the opera, sounds disjointed or out of sorts, and in fact Saraste brings out numerous details in the orchestration that Stravinsky simply did not do. A perfect example is the “Cortège solonnel” in the third act, where Saraste creates a wonderful atmosphere simply by focusing on the soft playing of the orchestra without sacrificing clarity. I cannot say enough of his conducting; it is absolutely splendid.

Also splendid is mezzo Katrin Wundsam’s performance of the little-played Pribaoutki. I have the performance that the late Cathy Berberian did with Stravinsky, and of course anything Berberian sang had a 3-D quality about it, but Wundsam has a richer, more powerful voice and does a fine job on it. Less impressive is baritone Hans Christoph Bergmann’s somewhat wan tone and slow wobble in the 2 Poems of Paul Verlaine, although his interpretation is sensitively shaded. In this instance, the old Stravinsky recording is far superior, featuring the outstanding voice of Donald Gramm.

But still, this is a pleasant surprise for Stravinsky buffs and particularly those of us who like Le Rossignol. The sound quality is both lucid and warm, a rare and welcome combination.

—© 2017 Lynn René Bayley

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Schoenberg’s String Music in Fabulous Performances

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SCHOENBERG: String Quartets: Nos. 1-4.3 Verklärte Nacht.4,5 Phantasy for Violin & Piano.2 Ode to Napoleon.1,2 String Trio, Op. 45. 6 Kleine Klavierstücke (arr. for string quartet). Wind Quintet (arr. for string quintet).4 String Quartet in D. Chamber Symphony No. 1 (arr. Webern for string quartet & piano).2 Concerto for String Quartet & Orchestra (arr. of Handel’s Op. 6 No. 7)6 / Schoenberg String Quartet; 1Michael Grandage, speaker; 2Sepp Grotenhuis, pianist; 3Susan Narucki, soprano; 4Jan Erik van Regteren Altena, violist; 5Taco Kooistra, cellist; 6Arnhem Philharmonic Orchestra; 6Roberto Benzi, conductor / Chandos 9939-43

This is one of those sets that could easily be viewed as overkill by those listeners who are less inclined towards the music of Arnold Schoenberg: not only all four of his string quartets and the string quintet, but also the string trio, the sextet version of Verklärte Nacht, Ode to Napoleon, the Concerto for String Quartet and Orchestra based on Handel, an arrangement of the 6 Kleiner Klavierstücke for string quartet and Anton Webern’s piano quintet arrangement of the Chamber Symphony No. 1. Oh, yes, and there’s also the Phantasy for violin and piano.

It would indeed be easy to thus walk away from such a huge venture, spread out over five CDs, except that the Dutch-based Schoenberg String Quartet has made such a specialty of this composer’s music over the past few decades that you would be remiss to do so. A while back I gave a good review to Schoenberg’s Quartets Nos. 2 and 4 played by the Gringolts Quartet, and they are indeed fine performances, but the competing versions by the Schoenberg Quartet are just that much more idiomatic and attuned to the special complexities of his scores. To wit, many quartets tend to overplay their hand in attacking certain passages with too much energy, which then leaves the contrasting sections a bit flat. The Schoenberg Quartet musicians have found a way to even out the temperament of each piece, giving its full due and exploring each one’s special character.

For the record, the Schoenberg Quartet on these recordings, made between 1991 and 1999, consists of Janneke van der Meer (soloist in the Phantasy) and Wim de Jong on violins, Henk Guittart on viola, and Viola de Hoog on cello. The other musicians added here and there are all identified in the header. (I admit having a strange fondness for the name of cellist Taco Kooistra, who plays in Verklärte Nacht. I think it has something to do with my early fondness for Zantigo, a fast-Mexican-food chain back in the 1970s.)

And their performances of all this music—and I mean all of it—are so riveting, so completely engrossing, that you almost don’t mind even the thorniest passages. When they get to some of Schoenberg’s more tonal and/or attractive works, such as Verklärte Nacht and the Concerto for String Quartet and Orchestra after Handel, their performances are so good that they virtually eclipse everyone else. Even the Phantasy is given a performance that absolutely rivets your attention, and the musical style is better than the Yehudi Menuhin-Glenn Gould recording.

Ordinarily I don’t like chamber group or orchestral transcriptions of piano or solo violin music, but I really enjoyed the quartet’s transcription of the 6 Little Piano Pieces because they had the same feel as Schoenberg’s 5 Orchestral Pieces, which I’ve known and liked for years. I’m sure it had a lot to do with their superb performance style as much as with the transcription itself. On the other hand, I didn’t care much for their transcription of the Wind Quintet, probably because you really can’t substitute strings for winds. The music just has an altogether different feel.

Happily, the last disc is tremendous. The Schoenberg Quartet does a splendid job with the early (1897) String Quintet, which sounds for all the world like something Schubert might have written. Who knew that Grumpy Arnie had such a jolly streak in him at one time? Next comes Anton Webern’s arrangement of Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony for piano quintet, and this is a splendid transcription that fully captures the spirit of the original. The quartet’s performance, with pianist Grotenhuis, is scintillating.

We end our excursion of Schoenberg’s string music with an oddity, a Concerto for String Quartet and Orchestra based on Handel’s Concerto Grosso, Op. 6 No. 7. This has the same kind of colorful orchestration, including xylophone, as Schoenberg’s arrangement of the Brahms Piano Quartet, for many years nicknamed the “Brahms Fifth Symphony.” But here Schoenberg does not transcribe Handel literally, as he did with Brahms, but rather plays around with the music, rearranging or omitting themes and connecting passages, changing tempos and harmonies to suit himself. It’s a spirited romp, and both the Schoenberg Quartet and the Arnhem Philharmonic Orchestra (who dey?) have a ball with the score.

Despite my misgivings about the string arrangement of the Wind Quintet (and to a lesser extent of the 6 Little Piano Works), this is a set that will get more than a few plays on your CD system. Think of it as a cornucopia of Schoenberg, if such a thing tickles your fancy. They’re clearly the best performances you’ll ever hear of this music.

—© 2017 Lynn René Bayley

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Hear Laks’ String Quartets Bounce and Glisten!

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LAKS: String Quartets Nos. 3-5 / Messages Quartet / Dux 1286

As I noted in my previous review of Szymon Laks’ music, this wonderful Polish-Jewish composer somehow fell through the cracks of history because he was a Jewish Pole living outside his native country for most of his life. A similar fate befell that of another outstanding composer, Mieczysław Weinberg, who has been resuscitated by critics worldwide over the past decade, but for the most part Laks still treads water in obscurity.

The CD I reviewed earlier by the ARC Ensemble included his wonderful String Quartet No. 4, and on another disc including music of several composers the Silesian Quartet recorded his String Quartet No. 5. Here we have a group of four young Polish women, three of whom studied at the Krakow Conservatory and one of which—first violinist Małgotzata Wasiucionek—graduated from the Chopin University in Warsaw and later studied at the Mozarteum Salzburg. The novelty here is his Third Quartet, only previously recorded by the Szymanoski Quartet on Cavi Music 8553158, a performance I’ve never heard. Nonetheless, this talented group of ladies give it their all, pouring energy into the typically quirky first movement and tender feeling into the slow second movement. This quartet, written nearly two decades before the Quartet No. 4, was the first piece Laks composed after being released from Auschwitz, which he survived by being a fast and brilliant copyist for music played by those prison inmates who were proficient at their instruments. The subtitle of this quartet is “On Polish Folk Themes,” and although I am of Polish descent I am two generations removed from the old country, therefore I can’t claim to know the folk themes that Laks used in his work. The liner notes indicate that he used “up to seven Polish folk melodies from Greater Poland and Mazovia to Podhale.”

The third movement is the most folk-like in sound, taken at a lively 3/4 tempo with lots of pizzicato passages to perk things up. This is the least complex of all the movements on this disc, almost a serenade-type piece that could easily be played as a stand-alone encore piece. Complexity returns with the fourth movement, in which the cello saws away at an ostinato beat in the opening chorus while the other instruments play around it. Laks very cleverly uses the cello throughout almost as a ground bass instrument, passing the melody line from first violin to viola while the second violin plays a great many intricate, double-time fills. Eventually the cello plays pizzicato while the other three strings scurry around in soft but busy figures. This is a real tour-de-force, with an almost Hassidic quality in the latter part of the movement.

Comparing the Messages Quartet’s performance to the one by the ARC Ensemble is interesting. The latter group plays it in a fairly strict tempo with plenty of energy, which is fine in its own way, but the former plays it just a shade slower and gives the music a much more syncopated swagger, which I really liked. I think the difference may be simply that the ARC Ensemble was playing the quartet without much experience or familiarity with it or with Laks’ idiom, whereas the Messages Quartet has this music much more “under their skin.” In any event, it’s a delightful reading of Laks’ quirky score. I found myself absolutely captivated by Messages’ suave yet witty interpretation from start to finish. They have an instrumental “sheen” to their sound that is quite unique among modern-day string quartets, which usually focus on edginess of attack and drama in interpretation. Messages plays with plenty of energy, but their instruments also glisten. What a pleasure it is to just bask in their sound!

Messages QrtThey continue both their gorgeous sound and sensitive yet enlivened approach in the Fifth Quartet. Once again, they eclipse the earlier performance by the Silesian Quartet by means of their greater feeling for both dynamics and rhythm. One almost feels, while listening, that they strive to communicate with individual listeners rather than a mass audience by personalizing their performances thus. It’s the difference between a stentorian Verdian mezzo singing lieder and a highly sensitized specialist like Mitsuko Shirai. Both have fine voices, but you get more out of the singer who pays more attention to nuance. Listen, for instance, to their wonderful arc in shaping the second movement, then to the “bouncing” rhythm of the Scherzo. This is music-making of a particularly high level that pleases both the senses and the intellect.

I should mention in conclusion that we’ll probably never hear Laks’ first two string quartets. Part of the liner notes were written by the composer’s son, André, and he informs us that they are lost. Thus, unless a miracle occurs, this disc gives us the complete surviving quartets of this extremely talented composer. Highly recommended.

—© 2017 Lynn René Bayley

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Respighi’s Great “Sinfonia Drammatica” Reissued

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RESPIGHI: Sinfonia Drammatica / BBC Philharmonic Orchestra; Sir Edward Downes, conductor / Chandos CHAN9213

When this recording, made in November 1992, was first issued on CD, critics waxed enthusiastic over it. Finally, they felt, we had an orchestral piece worthy of Respighi, whose name has survived mostly as the composer of three “orchestral showcase” tone poems. Written in 1913-14, with the world on the brink of war, it leans heavily on Strauss and Mahler yet manages to express itself in terms that are entirely Respighi’s own. The splashy, almost garish opening with its pounding tympani gives way eventually to more reflective music; in fact, much of the symphony leans towards a slow pace. All in all, however, it is an exceptionally well-written work, surprisingly fresh and always interesting regardless of the pace of the music or the length of the movements. For the record, the first movement runs 25:05, the second 17:15 and the third 18:06.

One of the reasons the music works so well is that Respighi seemed to be operating at a peak of creative inspiration. At times he could scarcely contain himself, so remarkable are his themes and the way in which he knitted them together. This music “tells a story,” as musicians used to say; the juxtaposition of various themes is nigh perfect, always keeping the listener’s interest. Harmonically, the score is closer to Wagner and Strauss than it is to Mahler; there are but a few moments in which Respighi used the same sort of chord positions or strange transpositions Mahler did, yet in terms of both mood and size the symphony sounds distinctly Mahlerian, almost like something written before the first symphony. Respighi also managed to create tremendous atmosphere in places by the use of soft, mysterious-sounding percussion behind soft, slightly ominous wind passages. One critic felt that the symphony also reflected “the amiably exotic figure of Rimsky-Korsakov,” one of Respighi’s teachers, but I feel this music has far greater interest and is far more complex than anything Rimsky ever wrote. The only facet of the work that reflects Rimsky-Korsakov is his mastery of orchestration. Respighi was never at a loss for the right instrumental blends at the proper moment to express his ideas, which is one of the reasons (among many) for the music’s wonderful flow.

In the second movement one hears allusions to César Franck and Tchaikovsky, but again it is mostly in terms of mood; the themes are his own, and he manages to make this movement sound like an extension of the first. The BBC Philharmonic plays superbly; seldom have they sounded so rich-toned yet clearly transparent in texture. When the music calls for mystery, they manage to enclose the sound in a patina of warmth; when drama is what’s needed, they open up with biting brass and pungent winds. Indeed, it is partly due to their playing that the music makes such a strong impression. Even the spot solos by individual musicians (i.e., the violin in the second movement) are played with a great feeling and communication.

The third movement sounds for all the world like a cross between Franck and Mahler—an odd combination, to be sure, but curiously a good mixture. The powerful, rolling theme almost steamrolls the listener as it surges along, eventually backing off the power to feature yet another spot solo (this one by a clarinet) before lower strings pick up the thread while the upper strings play apposite, swirling figures around them. Eventually a forlorn bassoon, playing the low range, mixes with muted tympani for yet another mysterious passage before the orchestra opens up and then retreats from the sound barrier. Respighi managed to time his effects splendidly in this movement; stabbing strings and violin tremolos, pounding trombones and descending chromatic figures played by the trumpets come and go. I may be wrong, but the way this orchestration is written I almost got the feeling that a live performance would have a “panoramic” effect, much like the works of Berlioz.

Without trying to make too much of a negative comparison, Respighi’s symphony a far better work than Havergal Brian’s overrated “Gothic” Symphony of the 1920s, and the reason is its musical cogency. Brian came up with some very good ideas, but at that stage of his development he hadn’t quite figured out how to make them flow into one another. Respighi, at age 34-35, had already arrived at a point where he was a master of form. What you wonder after listening to this work is, Why didn’t he write other symphonies in the same vein? Possible time constraints, or other interests, or maybe he felt it was better to leave symphonies to the French and Germans. We’ll probably never know for sure, but this deeply committed and superbly-bound performance by the late Edward Downes, surely one of the greatest conductors Great Britain ever produced, is more than convincing enough to suggest that others schedule the work in live performance. It’s truly a shame that they don’t.

—© 2017 Lynn René Bayley

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