Daniel Jones’ Symphonies

cover SRCD390

JONES: Symphonies Nos. 3 & 5 / BBC Welsh Symphony Orch.; Bryden Thomson, cond / Lyrita SRCD.390

This CD is a complement to Bryden Thomson’s two prior releases of Daniel Jones’ symphonies Nos. 2 & 11 (Lyrita SRCD.364) and Nos. 1 & 10 (SRCD.358) released four years ago. Jones (1912-1993) was a Welsh composer whose mother was a singer and whose father was an amateur composer who wrote religious and choral pieces. He studied English literature to start with, yet his Master’s Thesis was on Elizabethan poetry and its relationship to music. He then attended the Royal Academy of Music where he studied with Harry Farjeon, also learning conducting from Sir Henry Wood. He also served as a captain in British Army Intelligence during World War II.

Judging from the works presented here, Jones’ symphonies, all of which were written from 1947 onward, were starkly modern works based somewhat on the late style of Vaughan Williams but with his own individual approach. According to the notes, he described himself as “anti-impressionistic” and cited Purcell, Haydn, Berlioz, Elgar and Janáček as influences.

One of the most striking features of Jones’ work is its use of strong, angular rhythms. In this respect he owed a little something to Stravinsky as well. Indeed, in 1947 he wrote a sonata for three unaccompanied tympani, yet he also wrote the incidental music for Dylan Thomas’ 1954 radio drama, Under Milk Wood.

Despite the clipped rhythms and strong, extroverted style, his Third Symphony is clearly developed, following the time-honored rules of the musical establishment while still being strikingly original. Personally, I hear little or nothing of Elgar in his music save that composer’s most objective and least Romantic work, the Enigma Variations. Indeed, if I were given a blindfold test and asked to name the nationality of this composer, I might have guessed someone from the British Isles but one clearly influenced by modern Eastern European and German composers. There are even some hints in this music of the early scores of Bernd Alois Zimmermann, who also flowered in the early 1950s, but one must remember that several styles of modern composition were “in the air” at that time.

The Fifth Symphony, written in 1958, has a similar profile but a different approach. Jones prided himself on trying to make each of his symphonies an individual work that did not sound too much like its predecessors, but of course he had his own style and this permeated all of his work.

My caveat about these symphonies is that, although the music is powerful, it is not particularly well nuanced. Jones was evidently a very direct, almost brusque composer whose anti-Impressionism led him to develop a sort of “stiff upper lip” style that had no bend or give to it. The almost mandatory staccato rhythms he used were also rather inflexible. Thus I find the music good but not great; it says only so much and no more, most of its emotions riding on the surface of its orchestral brilliance.

You may, however, disagree with me…everyone hears music differently. I will say that Bryden Thomson’s performances are technically assured and probably about as good as we’ll get.

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

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