Alan Rawsthorne’s music is now – at long last – given
some renewed consideration and most of his major works are available
in commercial recordings (see NAXOS and ASV). The present release is
particularly welcome in that it features rarely heard works from various
periods of the composer’s composing life.
The Oboe Quartet dates from 1935 and
is thus a fairly early work which receives here its first recording
and one of its rare performances. (Rawsthorne completed a second oboe
quartet in 1970, available on REDCLIFFE
RR006.) The First Oboe Quartet has much in common with other Rawsthorne
pieces from the same period and is particularly remarkable for the formal
and technical assurance it displays. Its three compact movements encompass
a wide range of moods and emotions expressed in Rawsthorne’s customary
way. A very worthwhile addition to Rawsthorne’s expanding discography.
The Studies on a Theme by Bach for string
trio, completed in 1936, may sound a bit more austere although many
of Rawsthorne’s fingerprints are already much in evidence; his idiomatic
string writing particularly so. A short but highly rewarding piece well
Though he is mainly regarded as an instrumental composer,
Rawsthorne nevertheless composed a good deal of vocal and choral music,
much commented upon, rarely heard and recorded. The present release
thus usefully fills some gaps in our appreciation of Rawsthorne’s work,
though his major choral pieces are still to be given their due.
Lament for a Sparrow (1962) for tenor,
mixed voices and harp is a fine example of Rawsthorne’s choral writing,
though on a small scale here. It sets a poem by Catullus (in Latin).
The music wonderfully evokes the nostalgic strains of the text and the
sometimes tense choral writing is sparsely but tellingly coloured by
the harp. A minor masterpiece.
A Canticle of Man f 1952 is the first
of several collaborations with Randall Swingler (another product is
the beautifully moving a capella setting A Rose for Lidice
of 1956 [REDCLIFFE RR011]).
Swingler’s poem deals with the Blakean theme of lost innocence and Man’s
questionings, and ends in a renewed hope in Man’s ability to cast-off
"the rage of nature in Man’s infant soul". Rawsthorne’s setting
for baritone, mixed voices, flute and strings alternates declamatory
choral writing and wistful musing from the baritone, delicately supported
by the flute. A beautiful, moving piece that undoubtedly deserves wider
exposition, though Rawsthorne’s choral writing puts huge demands on
the singers. The Alan Cuckston Singers rise bravely to the occasion
but have some problems with intonation. I also agree with the late Bernard
Stevens who believed that the work’s impact would have been heightened
if conceived on a grander scale. However, this recorded live performance
serves the piece well and I for one hope that it will help Rawsthorne’s
choral music to become better known and appreciated. We may soon have
brand-new recordings of Rawsthorne’s large choral works by Hickox or
David Lloyd-Jones, but in the meantime we must be grateful to Alan Cuckston
and his assembled forces for giving the piece a chance to be re-appraised.
Besides the piano concertos, Rawsthorne’s other concertos
have all been rarely heard, if at all. Recent recordings of the Cello
Concerto and of the Violin Concertos have somewhat redressed the balance.
The Oboe Concerto of 1947 has long remained unheard after
its first performance in Cheltenham, but a recent recording (Stephen
Rancourt with the RSNO conducted by David Lloyd-Jones on NAXOS
8.554763) proved that it was a very fine work, highly characteristic
of Rawsthorne from first to last. An excellent performance here by Jill
Crowther expertly supported by the English Northern Sinfonia and the
best recording in this release.
As already hinted at earlier, this release might be
worth having for the choral pieces, even if these brave performances
might have been better, but it also includes two very fine, hitherto
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