Concert review

Arthur Butterworth - Symphony no 4 (1970-86)

University of Warwick Symphony Orchestra

conducted by Colin Touchin

Butterworth Hall, Warwick Arts Centre 8/12/98)

Arthur Butterworth's last Symphony stands as one of his finest achievements since his First of 1957. Inspired by the the moorlands of Northern England in November, it is a 35-minute four-movement structure of elemental power and protean energy, imbued with a distinctly autumnal flavour, which the University of Warwick Symphony Orchestra captured superbly.

In the first movement the woodwinds were sovereign in Celtic misty mood painting whilst the strings offered brilliant shimmering Sibelian ostinati. The uproarious climax with the timpanist thwacking out his insistent drum beats, like a hortator aboard a Roman galley, was most effective, as was the atmospheric, hushed ending. The strings created a feeling of genuine suspense in the mysterious half-lit opening of the second movement. Gruff and grimly purposeful at the outset, the movement becomes lighter as it progresses and the orchestra reflected this change in mood most successfully. The slow third movement is the still centre of the Symphony, rent asunder by repeated disruptive outbursts from the brass withoccasionally astringent harmonies lurking beneath the essentially contemplative surface. The swirling moto perpetuo Finale was articulated with great clarity and virtuosity at a sensibly steady tempo, the various thematic strands laid out in the previous three movements pulled together and the formal logic clearly underlined.

This rendering of Arthur Butterworth's Fourth Symphony emphasised its stature, a tribute to the sensitivity and musicianship of conductor Colin Touchin. Once again, an amateur orchestra has shown the way in terms of imaginative programming and committed interpretation.


Paul Conway

This performance was at the suggestion of Len Mullenger in celebration of Arthur's 75th Birthday. The composer and family attended. By one of those cruel coicidences, that same day ClassicO were making the premiere recording of Butterworth's first symphony which meant he was unable to be present at the recording. see CD review

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