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Alan RAWSTHORNE (1905-1971) - Orchestral Works: Concerto for String Orchestra, Concertante pastorale for flute, horn and strings, Light music for strings, Suite for recorder and string orchestra, Elegiac rhapsody for string orchestra, Divertimento for chamber orchestra. Conrad Marshall (flute), Rebecca Goldberg (horn), John Turner (recorder), Northern Chamber Orchestra conducted by David Lloyd-Jones Naxos 8.553567 [63:36]




I have no caveats here. This is a maginficent disc and would be gladly welcomed were it to be on sale at premium price. At the ridiculously low Naxos price I urge everyone with an interest in British music to grab this recording immediately. It is a worthy successor to the violin concerti  in the Naxos Rawsthorne stable. The Rawsthorne Trust and John Belcher have put their time and money into these recordings and are to be highly commended for doing so. The recording was made in the Victoria Hall, Bolton which I presume is the Town Hall, and is a bright, close, rich sound that is now becoming commonplace on Naxos British recordings. Once again the cover Art is a painting by Isabel, Rawsthorne's second wife, - stick men and fish in boxes which in no way resembles the glorious romantic music on the disc.

Concerto for string orchestra (1949) [21:27], in three movements, is an energetic exciting work in a similar vein to Britten's Variations on a theme of Frank Bridge and is to be recommended to anyone who likes that work. As for all the works recorded here John Belcher has usefully provided detailed technical notes. After a striking, striding opening, a solo violin produces a moment of quiet thoughfulness before a return of the tumultuous opening ideas, leading to a sudden conclusion. The slow movement has the gravity of a Bruckner adagio and manages to sound rather like one lending great weight to the work. Possibly a more accurate comparison would be with the Funeral March from the aforementioned Bridge variations. The allegro piacevole (tr. pleasing or agreeable) enters without a pause. A fugato lifts us back into the sunshine with a beautiful melody emerging from the violins leading to an energetic, uplifting ending.

Concertante pastorale (1951)[10.01] has the unusual combination of flute with horn and strings. This was a commission for a concert to be performed in the Hampton Court Orangery and a precondition was that the principal theme, heard on the horn, should be both sweet and lyrical. The horn is used expressively, promoting the theme, with the flute and strings adding a decorative commentary. It all works much better than I anticipated with the horn beautifully caught by engineer John Taylor in a well balanced recording.

Light music for strings (1938) is a short piece [3:58] using Catalan themes in sympathy with the Spanish Civil War. Those familiar with Holst's St Paul's Suite or Warlock's Capriol Suite will know what to expect.

Suite for recorder and orchestra [6:34] is the sort of title that will normally send me into cover. This was written around 1940 but the performance was prevented by the War and all that existed was a transcription for viola d'amore and piano which came into the Trust's possession in 1992. John McCabe has reorchestrated it for this recording. The suite consists of four short movements: Sarabande, Fantasia, Air and Jig incorporating folk material, and is composed in what John Belcher describes as an antique style.

Elegiac Rhapsody (1964) [10:14] is a real discovery and the most moving piece on the disc. It was written in memory of the poet and dramatist Louis MacNeice (1907-63). This is a very powerful work for string orchestra opening mysteriously and sorrowfully (c.f Holst's Egdon Heath) but soon turning to anger and ultimately despair. The work proceeds in alternating sections with the quiet sorrowful music becoming squeezed out by lengthening sections of white-hot protest and anger. Certainly a work of value and one to return to.

Divertimento for chamber orchestra (1962)[11:23] was written for Harry Blech and the London Mozart Players. The strings are joined by two flutes, two bassoons, two oboes and two horns. The movements are Rondo, Lullaby and Jig. In common with all the other works presented here, there is a solidity and purpose in Rawsthorne's writing and this disc has greatly enhanced my opinion of the composer which had already been revised with the Naxos issue of the two violin concertos.


Len Mullenger

A second opinion:

This latest CD released by Naxos brings together six works for Chamber Orchestra by Alan Rawsthorne. They are played by the Northern Chamber Orchestra, conductor David Lloyd-Jones, with the customary attention to detail that we have come to expect from this excellent group of musicians. The pieces were written between the years 1938 and 1964 and display every aspect of Rawsthorne's mastery of structure and instrumental colour.

Even on a first hearing of the Concerto for String Orchestra (1949) one is aware that Rawsthorne has an individual voice. The turn of phrase and string textures follow in the tradition of other composers using this genre without ever sounding remotely like them. It is a work to go back to many times in order to savour his distinctive voice.

The same could be said for the Concertante pastorale for Flute, Horn & Strings. (1951). The two wind instruments add that touch of evening melancholy that one associates with landscape painting of pastoral subjects.

It is good to have the Light Music for Strings (based on Catalan Tunes) (1938) once more in the catalogue. This short work should be in the repertoire of every amateur orchestra because it is such fun to play and acts as a useful stepping stone to more complex works in the same genre, like the Britten I Berkeley Mont Juic. Both works are a potent reminder of an important period in European history which has been celebrated in music by English composers.

The Suite for Recorder & String Orchestra arranged by John McCabe (c 1940s) is a gift for recorder players, either in its present form or the alternative with piano.*  It reminds us that the songs and dances of the sixteenth century are an important part of our musical tradition, as is the recorder. The strange, almost sinister melody of Wooddy-Cock stays in the mind long after the sound has died away.

The Elegiac Rhapsody (1964) is a fitting tribute to the memory of the poet, Louis MacNeice, whose musical lines also linger in the memory. The string textures are most arresting, encouraging one to stop and go back over what has just been played. The moods change from anger to sad acceptance and are expressed in many descending phrases. It is reduced at times to a small handful of solo instruments in true chamber music tradition, the individual voice suggesting a kind of 'keening'.

The final piece is the Divertimento for Chamber Orchestra (1961/2) and once again the composer includes wind instruments. The colour of each is presented with total clarity always underlined by rhythmic vitality. The lines of melody wander in a controlled fashion, responding to that tug of the lead which brings them back to base. The bareness of the second movement Lullaby is a model of restraint, the deft touches of colour from the wind instruments enhance the melodic line. There is a truly 'get up and go' last movement in which the textures are similar to those found in the baroque concerto grosso; plenty of activity for every player. This is a most rewarding collection of pieces, another bargain from Naxos! Yet again David Lloyd-Jones has added another distinguished contribution to a major series of British music.

*Newly available in the collection for recorder and piano John & Peter's Whistling Book, Forsyth Brothers Ltd. Manchester 2 CDs FSOO1 1002


Sybil Pentith

What next?

You can learn more about the composer from the Rawsthorne Web Site

If you purchase this disc, as you surely must, reduce your average postage by also purchasing the companion disc:
RAWSTHORNE Violin Concertos 1& 2, Fantasy Overture: Cortèges Rebecca Hirsch (violin), BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, cond. Lionel Friend Naxos 8554240

Buy here: Crotchet  Amazon

see review here

Naxos also lists a third disc which I have yet to hear:

RAWSTHORNE Quintet for Piano and Strings, Piano trio, Cello Sonata, Viola sonata, Concertante for Violin and Piano John McCabe (piano) Martin Outram (viola) Rogeri Trio Naxos 8.554352  buy here

Currently at a special low-midprice there is a recording of the Rawsthorne Clarinet Quartet coupled with two other British works:
RAWSTHORNE Clarinet Quartet, BLISS Clarinet Quintet, ROUTH Clarinet Quintet Nicholas Cox (clarinet) Nicholas Ward (violin) Peter Pople (violin) Ivo-Jan van der Werff (viola) Paul Marleyn (cello) Redcliffe RR010

buy here  or visit the Redcliffe website

Rawsthorne's symphonies are available on a Lyrita CD:
RAWSTHORNE Symphonies Symphony No.1 London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Sir John Pritchard • Symphony No.2  (A Pastoral Symphony) Tracey Chadwell (soprano) London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Nicholas Braithwaite • Symphony No.3 BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Norman del Mar Lyrita SRCD 291

buy here


Len Mullenger

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