(a descendant of the poet’s brother,
Christopher) was a student of Sir Donald
Tovey in Edinburgh. From his mentor
he took a penchant for traditional forms
– other influences identified by Richard
Noble in his booklet notes include Sibelius
and Bartók (fragmented, energetic
motifs). He met Shostakovich in 1959
in the Soviet Union and later formed
the Society of Scottish Composers. Apparently
prolific (his output includes eight
symphonies), it is instructional, indeed
enlightening, actually to get to hear
some of his music, especially when it
is as well played and recorded as in
the present instance.
The Second Symphony
is dedicated to his teacher, Tovey.
Apparently it was rejected for broadcast
by the BBC because the score was written
in pencil, not ink!. However, Barbirolli
turned it down also (just because it
didn’t appeal to his tastes rather than
his calligraphic preferences). In the
conventional four movements (slow movement
placed third), it displays a formidable
imagination. The sombre introduction
(Andante largamente) includes
a theme based on all twelve notes of
the tonal chromatic that contrasts with
the initially happy-go-lucky Allegro.
This movement carries varied terrain,
though, and Wordsworth demonstrates
real harmonic sensitivity both here
(try 11’50-12’00ff) and throughout the
The Presto second movement
is sparklingly performed. Active, shifting
and agile, the crystal clarity of the
recording helps to pin-point every detail.
But the highlight is surely the extended
(13’33) slow movement, marked Adagio
molto cantabile (echoes of Brucknerian
breadth here). This is a very heart-felt
statement that flows freely and inevitably.
The finale is lively and anything but
Third Symphony followed on immediately.
The first movement is characterised
by unrest – tempos change, textures
refuse to settle (the winding clarinet
solo that begins at 1’26 holds the key
to the movement’s aura in microcosm).
The inventive slow movement (Andante
espressivo) is also the longest
(13’45 as opposed to 7’29 and 6’06).
The celesta colouring is most affecting
and there is some sterling solo work,
particularly from the oboe. The effect
of the emotion of this movement is such
that the finale seems a little bit of
a disappointment, a brief ‘Allegro deciso’
whose jauntiness somehow does not fully
lift the clouds of the Andante.
The recording is everything
one has come to expect from Lyrita.
The performances are eloquent in the
extreme and represent a most persuasive
document. Much of this music is either
lively or lovely (sometimes both). But
it is never, ever merely facile. Do
try to hear this disc.