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William WORDSWORTH (1908-1988)
Orchestral Music, Volume Two
Piano Concerto in d minor, Op.28 (1946) [23:07]
Three Pastoral Sketches, Op.10 (1937) [17:59]
Violin Concerto in A, Op.60 (1955) [38:33]
Arta Arnicane (piano)
Kamila Bydlowska (violin)
Liepāja Symphony Orchestra/John Gibbons
First recordings
rec. 21–25 January 2019, Great Amber Concert Hall, Liepāja, Latvia. DDD.
Reviewed as 24/96 download with pdf booklet from eclassical.com.
TOCCATA CLASSICS TOCC0526 [79:41]

Yet again Toccata rescues a composer whose music has been unjustly neglected; all three works here are receiving their first recordings and all three were well worth the effort. It’s just one of eight interesting albums released in August 2019, which used to be regarded as a slack time by the record companies.

Wordsworth seems to have shown no false modesty about his music and he certainly need not have done so on the evidence of this new Toccata recording or of symphonies Nos. 2 and 3 on Lyrita (SRCD.207; No.3 also on super-budget collection British Symphonies, SRCD.2355: 4 CDs, around 18 but currently on offer from Presto for 10.40 – review review review).

Last year’s first volume brought us first recordings of the fourth and eighth symphonies and other works (TOCC0480). William Kreindler hoped for the speedy release of volume 2 – review – as did John Quinn – review – and here it is. If anything, it’s even more welcome; John Quinn found the eighth symphony a little hard going, but there’s nothing really tough on volume two.

That’s not to say, however, that the music is at all facile. The Pastoral Sketches, Wordsworth’s earliest preserved orchestral score, are perhaps the most approachable. Though clearly in the English pastoral tradition, they certainly don’t qualify for the old slur that all such music smells of cow pats. Nor, indeed, does any of the music of Vaughan Williams, against whom the slur was made. Lovers of VW’s music will, I think, enjoy these three Wordsworth pieces, though they are quite different from his music or that of Herbert Howells – another composer who has only belatedly come to be appreciated.

For Wordsworth’s forebear of the same name, love of nature was by no means passive or peaceful – re-read Lines written above Tintern Abbey to dispel that thought. Listening to the second of these sketches, The Lonely Tarn, easily brings to mind the idea floated in the preface to the Lyrical Ballads, that poetry should be based on emotion recollected in tranquillity.

The poem The Pond is often mocked, as it was by Coleridge, who persuaded Wordsworth to change the lines about measuring it from side to side – but the story it tells of a young mother’s desperation is far from facile. I’m not suggesting that the poem inspired the music, but both run deeper than a superficial reading or hearing might suggest. If anything the third piece, Seascape, digs deeper still; this time it’s Turner’s paintings that come to mind. At one time the title Mountain, Wind and Sky seems to have been contemplated and that would have fitted well, too, like Hamish MacCunn’s Land of the Mountain and Flood. (Try Hyperion CDA66815 for an anthology of MacCunn’s music: CD, or download for 8 with pdf booklet from hyperion-records.co.uk).

The two concertos dig a little deeper, especially the large-scale Violin Concerto, but without perplexing the listener – such as myself – who is unprepared to waste time with the avant-garde. Here, too, there’s plenty of emotion recollected in tranquillity, particularly in the solo. I don’t want to push the analogy between the composer and his great-great-uncle, but the latter argued against high-flown poetic diction in favour of language generally understood. That didn’t prevent him from breaking his own rules, often to very good effect and usually in a way that takes us out of our complacency1; that’s what makes him infinitely preferable to Jane Austen. His namesake could be said similarly to present us with understandable musical language to express meaningful ideas, but again without fear of often taking us out of our comfort zone.

Once again Toccata have turned to good effect to an Eastern European orchestra with the time to master new repertoire and have combined it with two soloists who bring us to the heart of the music. No excuses need to be made for any of the performances; all three make strong arguments for the composer.

As usual with Toccata, the valuable notes add to the attraction of this release; detailed and informative, they are written by Paul Conway.

The 24-bit sound is very good. The price of $21.51 from eclassical.com is probably slightly to the advantage of non-sterling purchasers, but there’s very little difference, even at parlous brexit-influenced exchange rates between that and 20.50 from the Toccata website. Both also offer 16-bit for rather less (12/$14.34), and the CD costs around 13.50. One way or another, if you enjoyed the first volume, you should obtain its successor. If not, why not go for both?

1 In The Old Cumberland Beggar, he pleads with society not to lock the poor and the old in the ‘house mis-named of industry’. It's taken me a long time to realise that having to disentangle this apparently awkward circumlocution, which refers to the workhouse, serves to strengthen the plea.

Brian Wilson



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