Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

More British Symphonies from the Lyrita catalogue

I came across a quote from Blaise Pascal today: "I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time." I've found myself writing some longish posts here lately, and while I know that tightening things up always makes things better, I have trouble cutting really boffo stuff. I did take out some apposite thoughts about Gilligan's Island in a recent review. That's me: always trying harder to give you better prose. Having said that, my recent review of Lyrita's British Symphonies compilation only covered about half of the composers in that four-disc set. I promised to return with some impressions of the rest, and here I am.

I see that most of the symphonies I didn't mention in my last review come from the London Philharmonic Orchestra. This, of course, is one of the great strengths of Lyrita; they have access to some of the finest orchestras in the UK. Just in this set we have the LPO, the LSO, the Philharmonia Orchestra and the BBC Wales SO. There are three symphonies I'd like to single out this time around. One of the most impressive works, and a fitting end for the whole set, is John Joubert's First Symphony from 1955, which the composer himself said "... represents my coming-of-age as a composer." This passionate and well-constructed work has plenty of both light and shade, and it deserves to be heard more often.

Joubert, by the way, is the only composer from this set who is still living. Here is the original 2007 Lyrita release of Joubert's Symphony no. 1, played by the London Philharmonic Orchestra under Vernon Handley:

Humphrey Searle was a pupil of Anton Webern, and he began using the 12 tone method of composition in the 1940s. So you'd expect an insistent dissonance in an international, continental style from his Second Symphony, written from 1956-58. However, it has an open, honest, thoroughly British sound that veers on Romanticism at times. We're still, however, miles away from the classic English pastoral tradition that butts itself into the foreground whenever British symphonic music comes up. This is another crack performance by the LPO, this time led by Josef Krips. William Wordsworth's 3rd Symphony is similarly substantial, without sentimentality, and full of energy and significant wit. The honours this time go to Nicolas Braithwaite, who conducts the LPO.

Thanks again to Lyrita for repackaging their amazing catalogue of British and Commonwealth music. Every release gives us a chance to discover or re-discover composers as accomplished as Searle, Wordsworth and Joubert.

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