TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 21 August 2011
Naxos's latest instalment in the William Alwyn series consists of a selection of the composer's shorter orchestral works, including the Concerti Grossi Nos. 2 & 3. Also included is the Overture "The Moor of Venice", the Serenade, and Seven Irish Tunes. The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra is conducted by the admirable David Lloyd-Jones.
The "Moor of Venice" Overture, after Shakespeare's Othello, was composed at the time of the Third Symphony (1956). After a slow, brooding introduction, full of foreboding, Alwyn makes use of the traditional Willow Song to identify the hapless Desdemona, while the insanely jealous Othello is represented by stormy, brassy music, and the wiles of Iago by a fugal section. A suitably solemn coda concludes the work.
Alwyn wrote three Concerti Grossi, the second of which is scored for strings alone, and is very much in the English string tradition fostered by the likes of Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Holst, Howells, Britten, Walton and Tippett. The first movement is vigorous and up-beat, with a more subdued middle section. The central adagio is tender and rather muted, with much interplay between string quartet and tutti. The finale returns to the vigorous mood of the opening. A brief lull in the fast tempo signals an abrupt, decisive close.
The Serenade of 1932 consists of four short movements: Prelude, Bacchanal, Air and Finale. Alwyn's masterly orchestration is evident throughout, and much of the music is tender and restrained, although there are some more robust moments, especially in the Bacchanal and Finale.
The Seven Irish Tunes (1936) are effectively arrangements of traditional melodies taken from the Petrie Collection. Alwyn includes the obligatory Jig and Reel, contrasting these with one or two more gentle melodies.
The Concerto Grosso No.3 was completed in 1964 after Alwyn's move to Blythburgh in Suffolk, and is scored for woodwind and brass as well as strings. It is the brass, in fact, which dominates much of the weighty first movement, with underlying embellishments from the woodwind. The second movement begins "andante" in the strings, but the woodwind dominates in the "vivace" section. In the slow finale it is the turn of the strings to take the lead. There is a Baroque feel to the slow-treading melody that follows the introductory bars, and, apart from a couple of brief climaxes underscored by the brass, the music is thoughtfully serene throughout, and the ending is subdued.
Aficionados of English music will no doubt be keen to add this disc to their collection, especially as the Overture and the Serenade are world premiere recordings. Incidentally, the missing Concerto Grosso No.1 is available on the Naxos companion disc, which also includes the Pastoral Fantasia, Autumn Legend, and Five Preludes.