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Alan Bush: Lascaux Symphony / Yates, Royal Scottish Symphony Orchestra

Bush / Hutchings / Yates
Release Date: 01/08/2013 
Label:  Dutton Laboratories/Vocalion   Catalog #: 7294   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Alan Bush
Conductor:  Martin Yates
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Scottish National Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BUSH Dance Overture. Lascaux Symphony (Symphony No. 4). Dorian Passacaglia and Fugue Martin Yates, cond; Royal Scottish Natl O DUTTON 7294 (74:12)

Although without doubt a uniquely important composer, Alan Bush (1900-1995) has always been a difficult figure to situate within the general context of English music. He was never a member of any school and his idiom has only a limited number of points in common with the output of his contemporaries Read more stretching from Vaughan Williams through Walton, Britten, and Tippett. Because of his lifelong adherence to radical social change, he was frequently shunned by both the musical establishment and the general musical public, with whom he nonetheless consistently tried to communicate through a series of highly evolved and deeply serious works based, for the most part, on traditional forms. It is also important to remember that a major proportion of his studies took place in Germany (where he was often more appreciated, especially after World War II, than in his own country) and that over the years he developed strong intellectual interests in a wide range of subjects.

This crucial Dutton Epoch release fills some major gaps in Bush’s recorded legacy, offering a 50-year perspective on his long-lived development from the 1930s through the 1980s. The program opens with the Dance Overture of 1930 which shows its origins as a band piece with its emphasis on the antiphonal use of winds, a trait which will continue to characterize much of Bush’s music. It is spirited and tuneful (annotator Lewis Foreman astutely mentions Malcolm Arnold), though there is never a hint of writing down for the masses.

Though Bush wrote four scores which he designated as symphonies, the fourth of 1980/83, subtitled “Lascaux” and directly inspired by the prehistoric cave paintings in France, is a peculiar amalgam of descriptive suite and philosophical tone poem. Its four movements—entitled “The Wild,” “The Children,” “Ice Age Remembered,” and “Mankind Emergent”—present a vivid, panoptic fresco of a kind of poetic anthropology set to music detailing the race’s earliest eons and gradual self-definition. Bush’s extremely varied and nuanced use of polyphonic devices and textures (which made him such a great teacher) is on full display during this perhaps slightly overextended work.

The program is then brought to a stupendous and triumphant conclusion with one of the greatest orchestral works of the English postwar years—the massive Dorian Passacaglia and Fugue of 1959. This writer remembers hearing in his youth a BBC broadcast of this piece, his first exposure to Alan Bush, and being absolutely bowled over. This exalted and multi-layered music thoroughly embodies the composer’s phenomenal mastery of counterpoint, variation form and orchestral technique in stunning array. The hushed interlude, for a questing solo violin, just before the final peroration is a magical moment. In this and other seminal works (the Piano and Violin Concertos, the First Symphony, the Dialectic for Strings, and the Variations, Nocturne, and Finale for piano and orchestra), Bush combines national and universal, musical and metaphysical concerns and aspirations in a splendid synthesis.

Performing this music, the various sections of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra get excellent opportunities to demonstrate their solid musical virtues, and Martin Yates seems to have the full measure—and control over—this challenging music. But this listener might have preferred a bit more impetus in the tempos, while the enormous dynamic scope of Bush’s orchestrations seems, on my middling audio equipment at least, close to overwhelming Dutton’s recording staff. But no matter: this is a momentous and monumental release in Dutton’s ongoing and tremendous resurrection of the English musical heritage. No lover of this repertoire can live without this disc.

FANFARE: Paul A. Snook
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Works on This Recording

Dance Overture by Alan Bush
Conductor:  Martin Yates
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Scottish National Symphony Orchestra
Symphony no 4, Op. 98 "Lascaux" by Alan Bush
Conductor:  Martin Yates
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Scottish National Symphony Orchestra
Dorian Passacaglia and Fugue by Alan Bush
Conductor:  Martin Yates
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Scottish National Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1959 

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