Symphony No 4 CD, Import
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Alwyn's duplicitous artistic life may explain part of the dilution of his efforts in each. His career as a painter seems more of a pastime than that of a committed artist, though his oil paintings of the British Isles are full of fine composition and technique. They speak big ideas - and so did his symphonies. While he enjoyed enormous success financially from his 200-odd film scores, his 'serious works' lack staying power, primarily because of the lack of a champion for his work.
Symphony No. 4 is his most often performed work and it is a craggy, brassy, 'barbarically splendid' work - massive in scale but at the same time able to pull back into the elegiac sections and create some heart rending melodies. There is an element of Gustav Holst and a bit of Vaughan Williams here, but Alwyn maintains his own 'sound' despite the quotes.
The treasure of this particular recording by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of David Lloyd-Jones is the inclusion of the 'Sinfonietta for String Orchestra'. Here Alwyn steps aside from his boisterous big works and offers a work of true beauty. The movements remind this listener of Samuel Barber's infamous 'Adagio', of the 'Nimrod' variation of Elgar's 'Enigma Variations' and of the quality of pastorale in Vaughan Williams 'Flos Campi'. This is melody from the heart worn rightfully on the sleeve, and for those of us who love basking in such wonder this piece is worth the purchase of the CD. It makes one wonder just how much more is hidden in this rarely performed composer's genre! Grady Harp, May 06
His music is filled with incident and drama, and in that sense, it seems fair to catagorize him as a romantic; but this is not to say that his musical language was in any way backward looking. His harmonic language is tonal, but of its time; he fits neatly among those composers such as Barber, Diamond, Honegger and Rubbra who avoided the 12-tone/atonality trap. A revival of his music in the concert hall would be welcome.
He is not, however, this listener's consistent favorite among his peers. And this is not the release that would be my first recommendation for those who haven't heard his music. Instead, I would look for Naxos' release of this 2nd and 5th symphonies, with the very lovely Lyra Angelica Concerto for Harp and String Orchestra, which has been very favorably reviewed here and elsewhere.
The 4th Symphony is certainly a high quality effort, and several of my music-listening friends relate with gusto to its dramatic fanfares and its long, aggressive scherzo middle movement. I have a preference for somewhat more reflective repertoire, but I don't hesitate to call this a thrilling performance of an effective piece. The Sinfonietta for Strings, which occupies the remainder of the disc, is more my style, although it is dynamic and dramatic as well, but within the confines of a string orchestra.
The performances and sound are first rate.