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Alun HODDINOTT (b.1929)
Concerto for Clarinet and String Orchestra Op.3* (1950) [14:21]
Harp Concerto Op.11** (1957, rev. 1970) [17:41]
Piano Concerto No.1 Op.19 (1960)*** [19:06]
Piano Concerto No.2 Op.21§ (1960, rev. 1969) [16:15]
Gervase de Peyer (clarinet)*; Osian Ellis (harp)**; London Symphony Orchestra/David Atherton*/**; Philip Fowke (piano); Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Barry Wordsworth***; Martin Jones (piano); Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Andrew Davis§
rec. under the auspices of the Welsh Arts Council, Kingsway Hall, London, January 1971*/**; Walthamstow Assembly Hall, London, 15th February 1996§; Kingsway Hall, March 1973***. ADD*/**/***/DDD§
Booklet with notes in English only.
LYRITA SRCD330 [67:28]




 

Though a prolific composer, Hoddinott has been far from fortunate in his representation by the record companies, so the current CD, part of Lyrita’s attempt to redress the balance, is very welcome. None of these concertos is currently available anywhere else, which makes my task of reviewing easier – no comparisons to make – but is a sad reflection on the neglect of this composer. With four concertos, all dating from the first twenty years of his creative career, this disc makes a useful supplement to the two Hoddinott CDs already released by Lyrita.

SRCD331 offers Symphonies 2, 3 and 5 and SRCD332 contains Dives and Lazarus, the Viola Concertino, Nocturnes and Cadenzas and the Sinfonia Fidei. Reviews of the former by Colin Clarke and of the latter by Hubert Culot and Colin Clarke were extremely appreciative.

I should say at the outset that I am equally appreciative of the merits of the current CD. Though recorded at various times, the standard of performance and recording is consistently high. The Clarinet and Harp Concertos were recorded in 1971 by Decca, who also recorded the Second Piano Concerto in 1973, all in the Kingsway Hall. One 1970s reviewer, à propos of their LSO/Kertész Dvořak Symphonies, I think, asserted that Decca’s Kingsway Hall recordings sounded as if they had been made in a zinc tank. The aforesaid metal does not seem to have touched these well-remastered recordings, which hardly sound inferior to the 1996 DDD recording of the First Piano Concerto.

The performance of the Clarinet Concerto is all that could be wished for. This is an attractive work; its performance at the Cheltenham Festival in 1954 marked the beginning of general interest in Hoddinott’s music. That first performance was given by Gervase de Peyer, who is also the soloist here. His version of the Mozart Clarinet Concerto long held the field alongside Jack Brymer’s and the Double Decca which contains it (466 247 2) and the Eloquence CD containing his Mozart, Spohr and Weber concertos (a bargain on 476 7404) are still highly recommendable. (Brymer’s version, coupled with the Bassoon Concerto and ‘Jupiter’ Symphony under Beecham is deservedly a ‘Great Recording’ on EMI 5 67596 2) de Peyer’s playing here is of the same high quality; the slow movement, marked arioso, is especially entrancing. No comparisons available, of course, but it is hard to image anything here being bettered.

The Harp Concerto is equally delightful; the performance and recording of this piece are equally delectable. Osian Ellis was the work’s dedicatee and, again, it is hard to imagine a better performance. Whereas the harp would have been able to compete (just) with an orchestra in Mozart’s time – and even he coupled it with the solo flute, which he is said to have disliked – it would be lost against the background of a full modern orchestra. Hoddinott solves the problem by having harp and orchestra conduct a dialogue with each other. ‘Dialogue’ is actually the title of the first movement; here and in the other movements, ‘Improvisation’ and ‘Fantasy’, the solo instrument is never allowed to get out of its depth.

The Clarinet and Harp Concertos are extremely colourful and there is nothing in them to deter even the most determined advocates of tuneful music. In both of these 1972 Decca recordings the LSO and David Atherton lend very sympathetic support.

The First Piano Concerto appears in a more recent (1996) recording made by Lyrita themselves. The two piano concertos are tougher, less ‘tuneful’ than the earlier works but, again, there is little here to annoy those who dislike the more angular manifestations of modern classical music. (I include myself in this category.)

The First Concerto opens with what might almost be mood-music from a film, mildly dissonant at times, even strident, before a more lyrical theme is developed. The presto second movement, which follows without a break, is a little more angular but even at its menacing and exciting climax there is nothing to upset all but the most conservative listeners. The dream-like lento and an energetic finale round off a work which is less easy to like than the Clarinet and Harp Concertos but repays repeated hearings. Again here soloist and orchestra give fine performances which should win friends for the work and the DDD recording is demonstration-worthy.

The Second Concerto, which followed hard on the heels of the first and was revised in 1969, is again re-mastered from a Decca Kingsway Hall recording, from 1973. Whereas the First Concerto was in four movements, Hoddinott here reverts to the more traditional three. The quietly lyrical opening introduces a work which is slightly easier to engage with than the First Concerto. The reflective adagio is particularly beautiful, even at its ff climax. Yet again the authoritative performance and the recording, which is hardly dated in the slightest, offer the best possible opportunity to get to know a work which, I am sure, will repay repeated hearings as much as the First Concerto.

The conductor, Andrew Davis, has, of course, since gone on to give us many fine recordings of better-known 20th-century British music. Some of these, such as his Elgar Enigma Variations (Apex 0927 41371 2: NB the number in the Penguin Guide is incorrect) and Falstaff (Apex 2564 62200 2) and his Vaughan Williams Sixth Symphony (Apex 0927 49584 2), can stand against all comers especially at their new budget price. Here there are no rival versions to contend with, but the end result is just as creditable. The pianist Martin Jones is equally first-rate in this concerto. Many of his recordings for Nimbus, unavailable since the demise of that company, are now becoming available again. Most recently his CD of the music of Hans Gál received very favourable reviews.

Anyone wishing to sample mid-twentieth-century music which is a little more avant-garde than Vaughan Williams or Walton but still colourful and approachable, especially at second or subsequent hearing, should try this CD. The music is easier to engage with, for example, than the Malcolm Williamson concertos on another Lyrita CD which I recently reviewed.

The notes in the booklet, by Michael Oliver, revised by Lewis Foreman, are informative and helpful.

The one problem which I experienced with this CD was that one of my decks failed to read the TOC and refused to play the disc. Three others did agree to play it, one reluctantly, having first identified it as a CDR rather than a commercial CD. I have not had this problem with any other Lyrita CDs, so I hope that it is a fluke limited to my review copy.

So far so good, but there is still a great deal of music by Hoddinott, of later provenance than that on these three Lyrita CDs, waiting to be recorded. (His complete works are listed here on Musicweb.) I certainly second Colin Clarke’s call for a reappraisal of Hoddinott. Perhaps Lyrita will put us even more in their debt. Or Chandos with the BBC National Orchestra of Hoddinott’s native Wales. Failing that, I note that Naxos, otherwise an able advocate of British music, have nothing by Hoddinott in their current catalogue – surely they will want to put that right. Are there any more Decca recordings out there waiting to be reissued?

Brian Wilson



 


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