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Alwyn: Violin Concerto, Miss Julie Suite, Fanfare / McAslan, Lloyd-Jones

Release Date: 04/26/2011 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8570705   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  William Alwyn
Performer:  Lorraine McAslan
Conductor:  David Lloyd-Jones
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 0 Hours 58 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

ALWYN Violin Concerto. Miss Julie: Suite. Fanfare for a Joyful Occasion David Lloyd-Jones, cond; Lorraine McAslan (vn); Royal Liverpool PO NAXOS 8.570705 (58:19)

The story of William Alwyn’s (1905–85) deliciously lyrical Violin Concerto is so typical of his fortunes as a composer of concert music that it bears telling here. The piece was written between 1937 and 1939 while the composer was also attending to his Read more duties as professor of music at the Royal Academy of Music—he was appointed at age 21—and just as he had started to write music for the Depression-era Documentary Film Movement. It should be noted, to address common criticism of his symphonic work, that he had not even begun to write music for the 70 feature film scores that are his most enduring legacy. (Ironic, since most of the scores themselves have been lost, and those recorded have had to be reconstructed.) The Violin Concerto was initially performed in 1940 in a piano reduction with the composer at the keyboard, the only performance Alwyn ever heard. It came to the attention of no less an advocate than Henry Wood, who tried to program it during the 1943 Proms, but the work was inexplicably rejected by the BBC, which was later to perform and even commission Alwyn works. Others, like Barbirolli, who was an ardent advocate for the symphonies, likely never knew of the concerto’s existence. It ended up in a stack of scores, with Wood’s letter of regret, where it stayed until discovered and recorded by Chandos, with Richard Hickox conducting, 50 years later.

That recording—the world premiere performance in orchestral garb—is still available, part of the pioneering Chandos Alwyn Edition, which, it should be noted, is beginning to slip into download-only status. Lively, colorful, fully responsive to all of Alwyn’s many romantic impulses, the concerto is played to the hilt by both the LSO and soloist Lydia Mordkovitch. It creates a remarkable first impression and a very high bar for any release that follows. Maybe that is why it has taken another 18 years for the second to appear.

As many collectors will know, David Lloyd-Jones has been recording the orchestral works of Alwyn for Naxos, having completed the symphonies plus several concertos and shorter orchestral works. In general, Lloyd-Jones has been brisker and cooler, with somewhat less rhythmic abandon and tempo contrast. This approach often highlights the formal strength and expert construction of these works. That is certainly true in the concerto, where the tempos are faster, quite decidedly so in the central Allegretto e semplice movement. Here listeners may prefer Hickox and Mordkovitch, who weave a nocturnal rhapsody of unearthly beauty. Nevertheless, Lloyd-Jones and Lorraine McAslan, two-and-one-half minutes quicker at 9:30, are closer on average to an allegretto . The movement is wistful and reminiscent of a Tudor fantasia at this tempo, and the poise and artlessness of McAslan’s playing is touching in its own right.

There is little to choose in the opening Allegro ma non troppo . Both performances are powerful and responsive to the tunefulness, demonstrating Alwyn’s genius for sentiment without sentimentality. The last movement may find the earlier preference reversed. Complex and potentially episodic, it begins in a noble English style reminiscent of Elgar, but is soon coyly elusive, then clever and humorous, almost folkish. The usually peerless Hickox leaves a few less-than-seamless transitions in his quest for characterization, while Lloyd-Jones persuades us that the final movement, for all its fanfares and virtuosic flourishes, is structured all of a piece.

Soloist Lorraine McAslan was for two short years the first violinist of the Maggini String Quartet. Oddly, her biography in the booklet makes no mention of that fact. Her solo work in that ensemble’s recordings of Alwyn’s quartets ( Fanfare 32:6) was one of the reasons for my enthusiasm for that release. I am pleased that while she appears to have turned her back on the quartet to return to a solo career, she has not done so to Alwyn. While not as warm in tone as Mordkovitch on Chandos, perhaps in part because she is recorded rather closely, she is every bit as effective at weaving Awlyn’s rhapsodic spells within Lloyd-Jones’s more objective framework.

I have left myself but little space to comment on the other two works, which is unfair. Philip Lane’s suite from Alwyn’s last opera, Miss Julie , commissioned by Alwyn’s second wife, Mary (aka composer Doreen Carwithen), capsulizes the decadence and hopelessness in the composer’s masterly adaptation of Strindberg’s play with selected music that is lively, sinister, and in the end harrowing. This is the only recording of the nearly 20-minute suite, though the superb complete recording of the opera is still available on Lyrita. Lloyd-Jones’s performance of the 1958 Fanfare for a Joyful Occasion for brass and percussion is marginally preferable to the only other, Hickox’s rather droll rendition, because he presents it with a lighter hand. Admittedly a short work, it simply adds to the reasons for any Alwyn fancier to immediately acquire this disc, even if in addition to the earlier Chandos releases. This should also be a good starting point for anyone now baffled at how a composer of such immense talents and easy appeal could be so neglected.

FANFARE: Ronald E. Grames
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Works on This Recording

Concerto for Violin by William Alwyn
Performer:  Lorraine McAslan (Violin)
Conductor:  David Lloyd-Jones
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1937-1939; England 
Miss Julie: Suite by William Alwyn
Conductor:  David Lloyd-Jones
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1973-1976 
Notes: Arrangement: Philip Lane (2000) 
Fanfare for a Joyful Occasion by William Alwyn
Conductor:  David Lloyd-Jones
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1958; England 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  1 Customer Review )
 Excellent! August 5, 2012 By Henry S. (Springfield, VA) See All My Reviews "English composer William Alwyn's work deserves more exposure in the United States, and the on-going Naxos Alwyn project is serving this need very nicely. The violin concerto is very melodic and smooth, with a terrific performance by Ms. McAslan. The other works are also a pleasure to hear. Excellent sound throughout. Recommended!" Report Abuse
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