Tuesday 22 May 2018

Alan Rawsthorne: A portrait

Alan Rawsthorne - A Portrait
Alan Rawsthorne - woodwind concertos & chamber music; Linda Merrick, Jill Crowther, Manchester Sinfonia, English Northern Sinfonia, Richard Howarth, Alan Cuckston; Prima Facie
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 13 Mar 2018 Star rating: 3.0 (★★★)
A lovely exploration of Rawsthorne's art with a pair of woodwind concertos and a selection of chamber music spanning over 25 years

Alan Rawsthorne's music has always, to me, seemed to be redolent of the 1950s and the atmosphere of creative yet lyrical modernism which was part of the atmosphere, something which would change with the development of the modernist stream of composers. In fact Rawsthorne had quite a long career, enroling at the Royal Manchester College of Music in 1925 and continuing to write until his death in 1971 (his Elegy for guitar was written in 1971).

This new disc from Prima Facie, described as a portrait, gives us a wide selection of Rawsthorne's woodwind concertos and chamber music, from 1935 to 1961; Concerto for clarinet and string orchestra (1937), Quartet for oboe and string trio (1936), Studies on a Theme by Bach for string trio (1935), Brother James's Air for cello and piano (1941), Sonata for cello and piano (1948), A most eloquent music (1961), and Concerto for oboe and string orchestra (1947), performed by Linda Merrick (clarinet), Manchester Sinfonia (conductor Richard Howarth), Sylvia Harper (oboe), Jake Rea (violin), David Aspin (viola), Joseph Spooner (cello), David Owen Norris (piano), John Turner (recorder), Laura Robinson (recorder), Roger Child (lute), Jill Crowther (oboe), English Northern Sinfonia [now the Orchestra of Opera North] (conductor Alan Cuckston).

We start with the clarinet concerto, which was premiered in 1937 with Frederick Thurston as the soloist. The work was given a revised ending by Rawsthorne, which seems to have been later rejected by him and rather imaginatively the disc includes both endings and you can programme your Cd player to give you one or the other. Whilst a relatively early work, Rawsthorne's distinctive harmonic language can be detected, with the interesting combinations of lyricism and toughness, lyrical directness and complexity. In four movements there is a brooding Preludio, a sparky Capriccio, and lyrically evocative Adagio, and a perky Invention, and I certainly prefer the revised ending.

Dating from 1935 the oboe quartet was premiered by a distinguished group of performers, Helen Gaskell, jean Pougnet, William Primrose, Bernard Richards.This a substantial three movement work (though here running continuously and presented as a single track) which combines lyricism with a contrapuntal dexterity and moments of serious intensity. Studies on a theme by Bach dates from the same period, and is a remarkably concentrated and intense work, again full of expressive contrapuntal writing.

There are two works for cello and piano. First the lovely Brother James Air (1941) full of remarkably expansive melodic lyricism. Then the three movement Sonata for cello and piano (1948), a far more intense and dark work. Rawsthorne uses a lot of thematic links between the movements, the brooding opening Adagio leads into a lyrical yet sometimes trenchant Allegro appassionato. The middle movement Adagio returns to the brooding of the opening, here developing into something mysterious yet expansive. The pieces finishes with a strenuous Allegro Molto.

The short A Most Eloquent Music for two recorders and lute is a complete delight, written for the Royal Shakespeare Company's 1961 production of Hamlet.

The disc finishes with Rawsthorne's 1947 Concerto for Oboe and String Orchestra written for the Cheltenham International Festival of Music (the first of seven Rawsthorne premieres at the festival over the years). It was premiered by Eveyln Rothwell with the Halle Orchestra conducted by the composer. The opening movement has a long, thoughtful string introduction before the rather melancholy yet evocative solo comes in, leading to something more neo-classical and lively. The second movement Allegretto con morbidezza comes over rather as elements of a wistful waltz. The final movement, Vivace is perky and lively.

The disc re-cycles recordings of the Oboe Quartet, Studies on a theme by Bach and Oboe Concerto which were originally issued on a now unavailable ASC CD in 2002. Instead of the original coupling of Rawsthorne choral works, it was decided to include further chamber music and the Clarinet Concerto in new recordings.

This is a lovely disc, with a fine selection of Rawsthorne's still neglected music in excellent performances. Anyone interested in mid-century English music will want the disc.

Alan Rawsthorne (1905-1971) Concerto for clarinet and string orchestra (1937)
Alan Rawsthorne - Quartet for oboe and string trio (1936)
Alan Rawsthorne - Studies on a Theme by Bach for string trio (1935)
Alan Rawsthorne - Brother James's Air for cello and piano (1941)
Alan Rawsthorne - Sonata for cello and piano (1948)
Alan Rawsthorne - A most eloquent music (1961)
Alan Rawsthorne - Concerto for oboe and string orchestra (1947)
Linda Merrick (clarinet)
Manchester Siinfonia (conductor Richard Howarth)
Sylvia Harper (oboe)
Jake Rea (violin)
David Aspin (viola)
Joseph Spooner (cello)
David Owen Norris (piano)
John Turner (recorder)
Laura Robinson (recorder)
Roger Child (lute)
Jill Crowther (oboe)
English Northern Sinfonia (conductor Alan Cuckston).

Recorded - 2000 & 2016
Available from Amazon.

Elsewhere on this blog:
  • Unashamedly Romantic: Reynaldo Hahn chamber music from James Baillieu and friends (★★★★½) - CD review
  • Transcendent mysticism: Vaughan Williams' Mass from St John's College (★★★★★) - CD review
  • Te Deum: Purcell & Charpentier at Westminster Abbey for London Festival of Baroque Music (★★★★) - Concert review
  • All-star Orfeo - Iestyn Davies and Sophie Bevan at the London Festival of Baroque Music (★★★★)  - Concert review
  • Sonorous debut: Neil Ferris & Sonoro in Frank Martin & James MacMillan (★★★★) - CD review
  • Gilbert & Cellier: A work of real musical personality, The Mountebanks rediscovered  (★★★★) - CD review
  • Vivica Genaux & Sonia Prina recreate the music sung by two great castratos at the Wigmore Hall  (★★★★) - concert review
  • The story of a journey: Roderick Williams & Christopher Glynn in Schubert's Winter Journey  (★★★★★) - CD review
  • Welcome to the Magical Garden or perhaps the Garden of Magic: the piano music of Robert Saxton (★★★★) - CD review
  • Philip Venables' 4:48 Psychosis returns (★★★★) - Opera review
  • Thrilling revival: Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk at Covent Garden (★★★★★) - Opera review
  • Striking double in Clapham: Shadwell Opera debuts a new work with powerful Janacek song-cycle (★★★½) - opera review
  • Music from Handel's London Theatre Orchestra (★★★★)  - CD review
  • Passio: from Tallis & Purcell to Kevin Hartnett via Bach (★★★)  - CD review
  • Out of the parlour and into the recital room - Hubert Parry's English lyrics (★★★★)  -  CD review
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