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Alun HODDINOTT (1929-2008)
Horn Concerto Op.65 (1969) [13:05]
Humphrey SEARLE (1915-1982)

Aubade for Horn and Strings Op.28 (1955) [7:07]
Don BANKS (1923-1980)

Horn Concerto (1965) [20:16]
Nicholas MAW (b. 1935)

Sonata for Strings and Two Horns (1967) [22:04]
Barry Tuckwell (horn) (Hoddinott; Banks; Searle)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Andrew Davis (Hoddinott)
New Philharmonia Orchestra/Norman Del Mar (Banks; Searle)
Alan Civil; Ian Harper (horns); English Chamber Orchestra/Norman Del Mar (Maw)
rec. originally issued on LP: Argo ZRG676 (Maw c/w Sinfonia – first released 1971); Decca SXL6606 (Hoddinott c/w Piano Concerto 2; Sym 5 – first released 1973); Argo ZRG726 (Banks; Searle c/w Musgrave Clarinet Concerto – first released 1974). ADD
LYRITA SRCD.335 [62.44]

Experience Classicsonline

Yet again we must be grateful to Lyrita for re-introducing us to some of the fascinating British Council sponsored recordings from the early 1970s, for so long unavailable. These derive from three different LPs and the sound, as it was on the original LPs, is magnificent; bright and clear with a wide dynamic range.

Both Hoddinott and Searle were born symphonists yet we seldom hear these works. All five of Searle’s Symphonies are available in fine performances directed by Alun Francis on CPO, and six of Hoddinott’s can be found on Lyrita reissues and Chandos. Likewise we seldom hear these concertos. But there are reasons, excuses really, Hoddinott’s work is dramatic and bold, requiring a soloist of great virtuosity and stamina, whilst Searle was a 12 note composer at a time when that wasn’t acceptable in the UK.

Their works, however, can be heard in all their glory here. Tuckwell is a magnificent soloist, making light of all the fearsome difficulties of the music. Hoddinott’s Concerto is in three concise movements, a darkly brooding Romanza, a scary chase of a scherzo and a solo cadenza which reintroduces the orchestra at the very end. It’s lyrical throughout – even the scherzo – and the orchestration is full of Hoddinott’s beloved bells and percussion. There is a wonderful forward momentum to the music, and, despite its brevity, makes a most satisfactory piece. My only wonder is why the composer chose not to exploit the lower ranges of the instrument, remaining firmly in the lyrical middle and higher registers, but this does make for a very lyrical and passionate statement.

Humphrey Searle, Webern’s only English pupil, adopted the serial technique and used it throughout his life, making it work for him and his music. The short Aubade is as romantic a work as you could imagine. The language is 12 note, to be sure, but Searle’s innate lyricism lies at the heart of the work. A very short piece with a fast middle section, Searle never wastes a note and creates a beautifully textured piece, like the Hoddinott, lyrical and passionate.

Don Banks was born in Australia but spent much of his adult life in the UK returning to Australia in 1973 to become chairman of the music board of the Australia Council for the Arts. Banks’s Concerto is also dark and brooding, with a long breathed lyricism, which takes its time to tell you its story. This is time well spent, for Banks was a fine composer who really had something to say. In eight sections, playing continuously, and exploiting the whole range of the instrument, we are taken on a journey, the very large orchestra accompanying us with a dazzling array of sonorities. The fast sixth section offers no respite, merely a continuation of the, I almost wrote ‘nightmare’ but that is wrong, the dream-world created for us. Much as I love the other works on this disk this is the most rewarding piece for it offers so much and delivers an emotional punch which is most unexpected.

It’s a shame that Maw’s erotically romantic Sonata for two horns and strings had to follow such passion but where else could it go? Maw has always been an unashamed romantic: I am thinking of the glorious Scenes and Arias for three female voices and orchestra - one of his first successes, written for the 1962 Proms – it seems incredible that it was 45 years ago! – not to mention the six Personae for solo piano, the astonishing Odyssey (96 uninterrupted minutes for full orchestra) and my favourite amongst his works, the orchestral nocturne The World in the Evening. He has written much vocal music, songs and operas, and his special strain of almost vocal lyricism fills his instrumental works. Sonata is not a sonata in a structural sense but a work combining three different musics – slow, fast and very fast – which alternate and develop. It’s one of Maw’s most cogent scores.

All the performances are totally committed, the sound excellent. Paul Conway’s booklet notes are a joy, full, generous and detailed. This is a most interesting and satisfying disk of British music - counting Don Banks as an Honorary Brit - and should be heard by all with an interest in highly lyrical, concerted music from recent modern composers. Mr Maw is the exception: he is, thank goodness, still with us and still writing. All these men know exactly how to set the wild echoes flying!

Bob Briggs

See also review by Rob Barnett


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