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William ALWYN (1905-1985)
Concerto Grosso No. 2 in G (1948) [15’27]. Autumn Legend for Cor anglais and String Orchestraa (1954) [12’18]. Lyra Angelicab (Concerto for Harp and String Orchestra) (1953/4) [31’29]
aGeoffrey Browne (cor anglais); bOsian Ellis (harp)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/William Alwyn.
No rec. info given. ADD

A disc of concerto-like works from William Alwyn’s pen is to be welcomed, especially when the harpist in Lyra angelica is the supremely-talented Osian Ellis. First, though, the Concerto Grosso No. 2 in G of 1948 (the first was written in 1943). The work is dedicated to the conductor Muir Matheson and received its première under Sir Malcolm Sargent in May 1950. There is a solo string quartet, although with the exception of the first violin, the parts are not overly exposed. There is certainly something of the air of Handel about the first movement, but filtered through twentieth-century Britain. If the brimming-over energy of the finale is enervating, it is the second movement (Adagio ed espressivo) that forms the work’s highlight. It is delicate in the extreme, the LPO realising the textures to perfection.

Autumn Legend is inspired by a poem by the pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti (a painter apparently extolled by Delacroix: in fact the score is headed by a quotation from Rossetti’s poem, The Blessed Damozel **). Alwyn claims the Autumn Legend to be a free improvisation on his chosen text. The kinship with Sibelius’s Swan of Tuonela suggested by Lewis Foreman is a telling one. Atmospheric this work certainly is, and it does manage to sustain its twelve-minute duration. Geoffrey Brown’s playing of the solo part is beautifully moulded, bringing out fully the melancholy contained within.

Finally, Alwyn’s Concerto for Harp and String Orchestra, called Lyra Angelica. Dating from the same period as the Autumn Legend was similarly inspired by poetry, this time that of the 17th-century English metaphysicals. Quotations from Giles Fletcher’s epic Christ’s Victorie and Triumph (1610) head each of the four movements (two Adagios, a Moderato and an Allegro jubiloso-Andante con moto). The première was given by the legendary Sidonie Goossens with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, again with Sir Malcolm Sargent at the helm, on the opening Promenade concert of the 1954 season.

There is a predominantly meditational aspect to Lyra Angelica that makes it appealing indeed. The delicacy of the second movement is most affecting, the intimacy very moving. The Moderato provides contrast with more determined lines from the strings, the finale with its swirls of harp-inflected colour. Osian Ellis is the perfect soloist, the recording of the strings everything one has come to expect from this company. Of all the Alwyn discs from Lyrita, this is surely the most special.

Colin Clarke

** Alwyn collected paintings by Rossetti in the 50's when the painter was deeply unfashionable and inexpensive. He was very much responsible for re-establishing his reputation. Try buying a Rossetti now! - Len M.

Session photographs

Alwyn web-site

The Lyrita catalogue

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