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William WORDSWORTH (1908-1988)
Orchestral Music - Volume One
Divertimento in D, Op. 58 (1954) [20:24]
Symphony No. 4 in E flat, Op. 54 (1953) [23:07]
Variations on a Scottish Theme, Op. 72 (1962) [10:07]
Symphony No. 8, Pax Hominibus, Op. 117 (1986) [17:45/18:21]
Liepāja Symphony Orchestra/John Gibbons
rec.  2018, Great Amber Concert Hall, Liepāja, Latvia
World Premiere Recordings
Notes included.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the death of the composer William Woodsworth and the first volume of a planned set of his complete orchestral works is a perfect way to honor the occasion. Until now listeners, have had access to symphonies 1 and 5 [see review~review~review] and 2 and 3 [review] thanks to Lyrita. But the latter disc consists of recordings from 1967 and the former of items from the Richard Itter archive, so new recordings of these four symphonies - and other orchestral works - as well as of those never recorded will be very welcome. NB: The notes for this new disc derive largely from Paul Conway’s excellent article on the composer - essential for those wishing to learn more about Wordsworth.

Those familiar with Wordsworth’s first three symphonies will find No. 4 much more compact than its predecessors, not only in its one-movement structure and comparatively short duration but in its compression of the basic material. The Symphony No. 4, like many one-movement symphonies, is in several sections, in this case five: a) Introduction b) Allegro c) March-like Passage d) Poco Adagio e) Conclusion. Section (a) presents the basic material, especially a flute melody that is developed throughout the symphony. The fast section proper (b) presents new material in addition to further work on the flute theme. The composer’s use of a solo trumpet to sum up this section is both typical Wordsworth and one of the highlights of the work. The section that follows (c) lets the tympani and especially the xylophone take center-stage (cf. the use of the celeste in the slow movement of Symphony No. 3) and the movement reaches a climax before unwinding in reverse to the major slow section (d). Here the flute theme appears, again greatly altered, and this and the other material are developed with great cogency before winding down to the last section. At first (e) might appear almost superfluous after the completeness of the preceding section, but the energetic last measures of (e) belie this idea.

Wordsworth wrote the Divertimento in D a year after the Symphony No. 4. After hearing it on a broadcast, Vaughan Williams wrote to the composer, advising him that if he added another movement he would have a full-fledged symphony. Wordsworth agreed but left the Divertimento as it is (see Paul Conway’s article for the reason the composer did not call the work Symphony No. 5). The Divertimento is scored for full orchestra and is based on the name, in musical notation, of the work’s commissioner and dedicatee Stuart Deas (D-E-A-E-flat). It begins in a slightly jaunty fashion, as befits a divertimento but becomes more serious and cerebral as the main theme is developed. This is perhaps the point at which to note that Wordsworth shares with his contemporary Edmund Rubbra the trait of starting a piece from a fixed musical point and seeing where the music will go. This gives the works of both composers a profound sense of forward motion, although each composer handles the development of his material in his own way. In the Divertimento, this sense of motion continues right through the work with the Deas theme altered in structure and tempo and with other material added. The slow movement (based on the first three of the theme’s four notes) is more lyrical than one might expect and the main theme is developed in a wide variety of ways. In the Gigue the theme is treated more seriously than one might expect, too, but a little of the opening jauntiness finally returns.

In 1961, Wordsworth and his family moved to Scotland, settling in Inverness-shire. The next year he received a commission from the Bryanston School in Dorset and this resulted in the Variations on a Scottish Theme. The piece was originally scored for the motley collection of instruments available for the premiere but the composer later arranged it for full orchestra. The Variations once gain demonstrate the composer’s ability to derive a wide variety of emotions from relatively simple material. Most interesting are an enchanting Variation 7 and a very expressive Variation 10. The work has a number of instrumental solos, with the xylophone, so prominent in the Fourth Symphony, appearing in the ninth variation and the glockenspiel in the thirteenth. The work is both cerebral and amusing.

A quarter century separates the Symphony No. 8 from the Variations. In that time Wordsworth had become a major presence in Scottish music and had written three more symphonies and many other works, but he had also suffered the loss of both his wife and his health. For several years he wrote nothing, until the composer Martin Dalby arranged for BBC Scotland to commission a symphony from him; this proved to be his last work. As Paul Conway has pointed out, Wordsworth was a life-long pacifist and, appropriately, his last work bears the title Pax Hominibus (the complete phrase is Et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis - And on Earth Peace to Men of Good Will). It is in two movements but the composer indicates that the second movement is to be repeated. This enables John Gibbons to include both of the composer’s endings for the symphony: the original quiet conclusion and the more extrovert one Wordsworth wrote for use at the conductor’s discretion. To my ears the original ending follows naturally from what has come before but a conductor programming the work as part of a whole concert might feel differently.

The first movement of the 8th Symphony begins with a gentle theme played by the horns followed by a fine string passage. Wordsworth’s forward motion is in evidence but there is also an occasional tendency to step aside and view the movement’s material in unusual and disturbing ways. A bird-like or ticking sound dominates the opening of the second movement and then alternates with a sad, song-like theme; the latter becomes fragmented and ends with a hollowness reminiscent of Mahler or Shostakovich. The movement is repeated and again dies away into silence - or not, if the later ending is used.

Wordsworth’s music has a particular sound (there are some similarities to the music of another contemporary, William Alwyn) and under the direction of John Gibbons, the Liepaja Symphony gets that just right. The strings especially provide the kind of granitic and particulate playing needed for this music. As I said above, these pieces provide plenty of solo passages and are all are ably performed by the members of the Liepaja orchestra. John Gibbons ably deals with Wordsworth’s many sudden rhythmic changes and always keeps things moving. The venue for this recording lacks reverberance, but this is not as much of a drawback as it might be with more multi-hued music.

I hope that Toccata Classics will give us Volume Two soon. Wordsworth is an important composer whose music should be heard and there is no better way to assure this than for all his orchestral music to be available to listeners.

William Kreindler


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