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Williamson: Orchestral Works Vol 2 / Gamba, Iceland So

Release Date: 03/27/2007 
Label:  Chandos   Catalog #: 10406   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Malcolm Williamson
Conductor:  Rumon Gamba
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Iceland Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 7 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

WILLIAMSON Symphonies: No. 1, “ Elevamini”; No. 5, “ Aquero.” Epitaphs for Edith Sitwell. Lento for Strings Rumon Gamba, cond; Iceland SO CHANDOS 10406 (67:06)

Temperamentally as well as stylistically, the Australian-born Master of the Queen’s Music Malcolm Williamson (1931–2003) was an odd mix. In fact there are really two Malcolm Williamsons—the religious Read more and the secular, and they seldom overlap within individual works. Those who enjoy the former are less likely to care much about the latter. This second volume of Chandos’s traversal of his orchestral output, unlike the first, emphasizes this Catholic convert’s more intensely spiritual concerns.

His First Symphony of 1956–57, subtitled “Elevamini” (“Be ye lifted up,” from Psalm 24), is a very ambitious and deeply serious utterance for a composer in his mid-twenties, who was already noted for his sense of fun. Triggered by the death of his grandmother, the manuscript quotes extensively from the Latin Mass. According to the composer, this is a programmatic work in the strictly allegorical sense of “following the progress of a soul” (to quote annotator Lewis Foreman). The half-hour work consists of two longer Lento movements encompassing a livelier Allegretto, elements of which permeate the finale. Approached in these highly subjective terms, it is an impressively moving and sincere achievement, but listened to as a purely non-didactic symphonic structure, it is for this listener an ultimately elusive and unsatisfying experience. I, as a dedicated Williamson fan, have tried for years to get a handle on this important piece through repeated auditions of the 1970s EMI recording conducted by the somewhat overrated Sir Charles Groves, and this new performance led by Rumon Gamba still does not work for my ears. It remains a vague and episodic mish-mash full of undigested Stravinsky and unclear and unmemorable ideas which simply do not hold together. One hopes others may get more out of it.

When we compare “Elevamini” with the Fifth Symphony, composed nearly a quarter century later in 1979–80 and also inspired by a religious subject (the life of Saint Bernadette, the teenage visionary of Lourdes), we are in the hands of a much more mature composer who has totally assimilated his influences (Messiaen now as well as Stravinsky) and has become a master of his craft. This is an organically compact and fluid piece of work, in a single movement lasting 24 minutes, in which Williamson’s propensity for flamboyant theatricality (heard in his ballets and operas) meshes perfectly with his pious inclinations, limning not only the revelatory landscape of his protagonist but also the physical world in which she lived—the glorious Pyrenees: the music is suffused with the sound of tolling bells and echoes of the joyous and worshipful chants of the Catholic liturgy. “Aquero” is apparently a dialect word used by the girl to describe her vision of the Virgin Mary, but its overtones of watery benediction are also vividly embodied in the lush, enfolding sonorities of the scoring.

Filling out this program are Williamson’s two well-known Epitaphs for Edith Sitwell , written over the years 1966 to 1972, and their hieratic dignity and austerity testify to the composer’s evolving mastery during that period. At the end of the program we hear a relatively late work—the three-minute Lento for Strings of 1985. Allowing his innate melodic gift full sway, Williamson gives us an unforgettable theme of exquisite simplicity and radiant beauty with no distracting embellishments—worldly or spiritual—attached.

That Chandos had to resort to Iceland to record this quintessentially Commonwealth figure in no way diminishes the authenticity of the results. Gamba, who is the Iceland Symphony’s music director, elicits glowing as well as dramatic readings that will undoubtedly help to renew Williamson’s currently marginalized standing.

A deeply sustaining release which fills out another important facet of 20th-century English repertoire.

FANFARE: Paul A. Snook
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Works on This Recording

Lento for Strings by Malcolm Williamson
Conductor:  Rumon Gamba
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Iceland Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: Australia 
Venue:  Háskólabíó, Reykjavík, Iceland 
Length: 3 Minutes 12 Secs. 
Notes: Háskólabíó, Reykjavík, Iceland (02/13/2006 - 02/17/2006) 
Symphony no 5 "Aquerň" by Malcolm Williamson
Conductor:  Rumon Gamba
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Iceland Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1980; England 
Venue:  Háskólabíó, Reykjavík, Iceland 
Length: 24 Minutes 18 Secs. 
Notes: Háskólabíó, Reykjavík, Iceland (02/13/2006 - 02/17/2006) 
Symphony no 1 "Elevamini" by Malcolm Williamson
Conductor:  Rumon Gamba
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Iceland Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1957; England 
Venue:  Háskólabíó, Reykjavík, Iceland 
Length: 31 Minutes 16 Secs. 
Notes: Háskólabíó, Reykjavík, Iceland (02/13/2006 - 02/17/2006)
Composition written: England (1956 - 1957). 
Epitaphs (2) for Edith Sitwell by Malcolm Williamson
Conductor:  Rumon Gamba
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Iceland Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Venue:  Háskólabíó, Reykjavík, Iceland 
Length: 7 Minutes 47 Secs. 
Notes: Háskólabíó, Reykjavík, Iceland (02/13/2006 - 02/17/2006) 

Sound Samples

Symphony No. 1, "Elevamini": I. Lento - Poco piu mosso - Lo stesso tempo ma liberamente - Largo marziale - Tempo I - Andante lento - Tempo I
Symphony No. 1, "Elevamini": II. Allegretto - Poco piu mosso - Tempo I
Symphony No. 1, "Elevamini": III. Lento assai - Allegro - Andante lento - Allegro come prima - Lento assai - Allegro
Epitaphs for Edith Sitwell: I. Adagio
Epitaphs for Edith Sitwell: II. Adagio
Symphony No. 5, "Aquero": Dawn over the Pyrenees 11.ii.1858: Adagio -
Symphony No. 5, "Aquero": Aquero -
Symphony No. 5, "Aquero": Corridors of Chant -
Symphony No. 5, "Aquero": The Aquero speaks to Bernadette -
Symphony No. 5, "Aquero": Bernadette prays: Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison

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