William Alwyn falls somewhere between the English pastoral tradition epitomized by Vaughan Williams and, for the lack of a better way of putting it, English modernism in the vein of Walton. His wife, Mary, described him as a "modern romantic" but added that "his romanticism does not, however, result in rhapsodic shapelessness." While some of his work is absolutely gorgeous - indeed, he was above all motivated by the pursuit of beauty - other things, particularly the symphonies, are not so easily embraceable as his ideal of "beauty" might lead the listener to believe. The Fourth Symphony (1959) is a case in point: at first blush, it strikes the listener as serious, perhaps even cerebral, especially the introductory first movement which doesn't have much melodic content to carry it along. The middle and final movements are another matter. Here Alwyn invokes Holst's "Mars" and sounds Mahlerian in places, and his extensive experience writing for films serves him well as he moves from one thematic swatch to another. One quickly forgets the seriousness of the first movement in view of music as inventive as this.
The delightful Elizabethan Dances (1957) make up a suite of six movements that are representative of Alwyn at his best. Again, the composer's film experience is in evidence here as the music switches back and forth between the eras of Elizabeth I and Elizabeth II. One listen will have those who are new to this under-rated composer hooked. The Festival March (1951), which was written for the Festival of Britain, is "imperial" in approach, echoing Elgar and Walton's efforts in this genre. While not especially memorable, it nevertheless makes for a fitting closer to this fine program of Alwyn.
The sonics are superb. Warmly recommended.
Alwin: Symphony No.4 / Elizabethan Dances / Festival March