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Robert STILL (1910-1971)
Symphony No. 3 (1960) [28:21]
Symphony No. 4 (1964) [20:43]
Humphrey SEARLE (1915-1982)
Symphony No. 2 op. 33 (1957) [20.18]
London Symphony Orchestra/Eugene Goossens (3); Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Myer Fredman (4); London Philharmonic Orchestra/Josef Krips
rec. Walthamstow Assembly Hall, 19 May 1962 (3); 6 January 1974 (4); 18 September 1972 (2). ADD
LYRITA SRCD.285 [69:22]

Experience Classicsonline


Issuing an LP of Humphrey Searle's first two symphonies was something of a byway for Lyrita Recorded Edition in the early 1970s. Serial music was not a natural Lyrita 'component'. Their constituency was more comfortable with Bliss, Bax, Howells, Ireland, Moeran and Finzi. The Searle LP, rather like their Still album, festered in obscurity and was rarely seen on record shop racks even in the heyday of vinyl.

Those two LPs serve as illustrations that even thirty plus years ago Lyrita were happy to license older material from other labels where it suited their aims and terms could be agreed. The Still Third Symphony was issued without coupling on Saga STXID 5256 and appeared on Lyrita SRCS 46 and on Musical Heritage Society MHS 1482. Under a Lyrita-Decca deal Searle’s First Symphony as conducted by Boult joined Lyrita’s own Second Symphony on LP: SRCS 72. The original Decca issue had been on Decca SXL 2232. We must hope that in this reshuffling of the cards we will soon see a new Lyrita that restores the Decca-LPO-Boult-Searle 1 with the contents of LP Decca SXL 6281 which coupled Still’s Elegie for a Summer Night and Concerto for Strings with Rubbra’s Inscape.

The Still Third Symphony has never sounded better than this and I have heard its two LP avatars. Simon Gibson has done a superlative job in capitalising on the original highly accomplished work of the Saga engineers. The Symphony, for all of its mercurial mood and tempo changes, comes across as much more convincing than ever before. The first movement rattles with energy, sounding at one moment like earlyish Rawsthorne, like RVW's London Symphony and at other times catching something of the Nordic symphonic Bax. The repose of the big Largo smiles indulgently. It's a beautifully structured and resolved piece of orchestral writing and not at all dissonant.  The final Moderato is licked with flames though not as wild as those that convulse Alwyn's Fourth. Those last galloping side-drum punched bars suggest some acquaintance with the Shostakovich war-time symphonies.

Much has been made of the psychological case-study that appears to have inspired the single movement Still Fourth Symphony. I doubt it is helpful to delve into that. The music either convinces on its own or not. Here it works well and has no need for adventitious props. Still - in this strong succinct work - tersely draws the lines between himself and the twelve tone composers of the time. They were riding a cresting wave. His star was hitched to an increasingly unfashionable tonality. The music is riven with torment, excitingly painted in, but there is again too an almost Russian triumph at 18:00 onwards.

The Third is a very fine work here superbly prepared and advocated by Goossens who at the time had only a handful of months to live. It must be amongst his last recordings. The Fredman/RPO Fourth is hardly less vital.

By contrast the Searle work is dissonant but by no means extreme and certainly presenting no enduring obstacles to communication with his listeners. He was an unashamed serialist who had no truck with English pastoralism. His world was that of Schoenberg but with romantic proclivities as can be heard in his  Aubade and elsewhere. The three movement Second Symphony tends towards doom and fantasy (lento at 4.30) but also packs an epic punch as in the eloquent release of tension in the string theme at 5.03 (tr.6). The finale has some rushing impetuous massed string writing that parallels that in the much later Alwyn Symphony No. 5 Hydriotaphia. Tightly bouncing little woodwind figures more than glance towards Malcolm Arnold and his Fifth and Sixth Symphonies. The slamming brutality of the finale is superbly done. One can only admire Searle's ineluctable way with this piece.

The Searle Second Symphony was premiered in Liverpool conducted by John Pritchard in October 1958.

The notes are by Paul Conway who, as ever, brings well-stocked research and a fresh eye to the commentator’s task.

Both Searle and Still had extravagant imaginations. Searle has had some justice done to his music although more is needed in the shape of recordings of Hamlet (opera), Poem for 22 Strings, Three Ages, Riverrun, Gold Coast Customs, Devil’s Jig and Great Peacock. As for Still, we urgently need to hear this concertos for piano and violin, the overture Ballad of Bladebone Inn and the first two symphonies.

While we wait for those works to catch some companies imagination and budget priority this fine CD enables us to get to grips again with Searle’s tough yet communicative Second and Still’s splendid Third and Fourth. They are heard in the best sound they have ever enjoyed.
Rob Barnett

Still website by Graham Musto
Earlier Still review

Searle Memoirs: Quadrille with a Raven


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