Naxos has done it again. Alan Rawsthorne's three symphonies are well worth hearing, and all three fit nicely on a single CD, but the only label to have done so until now was Lyrita. Lyrita's CDs cost and arm and a leg, and the CD in question used three different conductors (Pritchard, Braithwaite, and Del Mar) and two different orchestras (the London Philharmonic and the BBC Symphony Orchestra). For just a few bucks, Naxos makes it possible to acquire all three works in brand spanking new and very reliable performances.
The symphonies appeared between 1950 and 1964. The First and Third are absolute music at its finest, free of gimmickry and sensationalism. The intensity of these two works is complemented by the relaxation of the Second Symphony, which Rawsthorne subtitled "A Pastoral Symphony," thinking, perhaps of his countryman Ralph Vaughan Williams whose Third Symphony is similarly subtitled. Nevertheless, the Second Symphony doesn't imitate nature; it merely summons up the emotional and intellectual impressions which Rawsthorne must have received upon moving to the Essex countryside in 1953. The third movement, the most approachable in Rawsthorne's symphonic canon, is a playful country dance. In the finale, a soprano joins the orchestra - again, shades of Ralph Vaughan Williams – to sing a brief text by Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey. Rawsthorne is far more concise and concentrated than Vaughan Williams, however.
David Lloyd-Jones's Bax symphony series for Naxos was well received, and these performances are cut from the same cloth. There is plenty of warmth in these readings, and an affectionate purposefulness which "sells" this music. The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra plays well, and soprano Charlotte Ellett is effective in her solo. Naxos has given these performances good engineering, and John M. Belcher's booklet notes enhance enjoyment.
Copyright © 2005, Raymond Tuttle