Barbirolli gave the first performances of both symphonies (he also commissioned No 2). Here he gives very fine performances of both works The recordings (from the BBC studios in Maida Vale) are from 1952/1953 but they have been digitally remastered with characteristic care by Michael J Dutton. No 1 from 1949 is a fine atmospheric work. Although generally well received on first appearance, some critics were less sympathetic, equating the score with film music (paradoxically, I've always thought that Alwyn's magnificent score for the film "Odd Man Out" sounds truly symphonic...don't miss it). Personally, I thoroughly enjoy this score finding it both memorable and moving.
Symphony No 2 was Alwyn's own favourite of his five (they are all good) and is probably his greatest symphony. It has a searching and visionary quality which is compelling. The structure is unusual; a single movement, lasting about 25 minutes, broken into two sections with a short pause in between. There are echoes of Sibelius (Symphony 2) and Bax at times, but, even so, Alwyn was a composer of considerable originality and this is a fine disc of two of his best scores.
The Alwyn symphonies have been well served on CD with complete cycles on Lyrita (Alwyn), Chandos (Hickox) and a fine recent series on Naxos (LLoyd Jones). All are recommendable but I think that these Barbirolli performances (taken rather faster than the other performances) have a unique authenticity and are, despite the age of the recordings, an essential supplement to the more recent recordings.
The accompanying booklet contains informative notes from Lewis Foreman and a generous collection of photos,including one of Alwyn, Barbirolli, Bax, Rubbra and Bernard Stevens assembled in a row at the Cheltenham Festival of 1951. The recording of Symphony 1 comes complete with 1950s BBC radio announcement.