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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

Rejigging has enabled Lyrita to issue these three symphonies on one disc. It ensures that the works of these two British composers, born five years apart, has fine representation on the revivified Lyrita rostrum. It might also serve to pique interest in works that are still for the most part completely overlooked in the symphonic pantheon.

Still's Third Symphony was written in 1960, in three movements. From its brassy fanfares and strongly ebullient rhythmic profile one begins to question its invisibility and indeed inaudibility in the musical landscape. The high spirited writing, the clever patterns Still unfolds are all indicative of a significant craftsman at work and one whom, as the Largo shows, can unveil a refulgent elegy without recourse to exaggeration or mordant self-pity. Burnished and wistful - do I detect hints of Elgar's A minor? - the movement may not plumb the most cavernous of depths but in its way it cuts deep. When the brass and percussion open the Moderato finale they do so in a much expanded and tougher mirror of the first movement. This symmetry thus set up Still works his mini magic with it. Tension is maintained, the writing is resourceful and not opaque - and those little moments of colourful reprieve add immeasurably to the schematic and emotive success of a fine work, unjustly overlooked.

The Fourth Symphony followed in 1964 but is cast in a single movement. There's an arresting, angular persistence to the opening that remains pretty well unremitting for much of the time. The strings bring their own layer of tension, and the flaring march themes are powerful, unavoidable and impressive. There's real vehemence here, real grip too. When, eventually, an Elgarian theme does emerge it is assailed and defeated. It's a less easy work than the Third to assimilate, but that's because the earlier work is, relatively speaking, the more conventional.

The two Still symphonies are coupled with the Second Symphony of Humphrey Searle, which was written in 1958. It shares with Still's Third a three movement schema and with the Fourth an implacable control, though it's couched in a more contemporary idiom. Searle exercises vivid control over his material and in the Lento he develops a musical profile that is at once stoic and yet organic. The taut outbursts and drama of the lucid finale are embedded in a schema that draws on earlier thematic material and the work ends, characteristically, with a Lento, solenne passage of power and authority.

The Searle was in the (unlikely?) hands of Josef Krips and the LPO. Lyrita hero Myer Fredman directed the Still Fourth with the RPO. And a third London orchestra, the LSO, was conducted by Eugene Goossens in the Third.

The engineering is really first class and the disc makes a strong kind of sense for all sorts of reasons, not merely exigency. 

Jonathan Woolf  

see also review by Rob Barnett


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