RAWSTHORNE: Cello Concerto / Oboe Concerto / Symphonic Studies (Alexander Baillie/ David Lloyd-Jones/ Royal Scottish National Orchestra/ Stephane Rancourt) (Naxos: 8.554763)
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Cello Concerto Symphonic Studies Oboe Concerto
Alan Rawsthorne graduated from the Royal Manchester College of Music in1929. Following a further two years of study with Egon Petri, he became pianistto the School of Dance at Dartington, leaving in 1934 to follow a career as afreelance composer. He was fortunate to attract the attention of Hubert Fosswho became his publisher at Oxford University Press.
Symphonic Studies was his first orchestral score and, given its self-assurance,cogency, uniquely recognisable voice and emotional range, this was a remarkableachievement. It had its first performance at the I.S.C.M. Festival in Warsaw inApril 1939 and quickly gained critical acclaim.
The work can be looked upon as a concerto for orchestra with all theopportunities for display which the genre provides. There are five variants onthe Maestoso introduction, which play continuously - (i) Allegro di bravura;(ii) Allegretto; (iii) Allegro di bravura; (iv) Lento; (v)Allegro piacevole. Rawsthorne derives all his material from the openingbars. Permutations of the first four notes provide for the melodic and harmonicsubstance and an extensive range of colours, contrasts and moods - fromdramatic declamation (v) to highly expressive melodic lines (ii) and (iv), fromassertive brass (v) to the delicate crystalline decorations of harp and celeste(ii) and from the initial easygoing statement of the theme to the academicintensity of a brass fugue encompassed in a single section (v).
Although scored for a large orchestra with triple wind, theorchestration aims at transparency, many passages having a chamber music-likequality. Dramatic point and dramatic intensity derive not so much frominstrumental accretions as from chiaroscuro-?¡like contrasts, building frombright, almost insouciant, openings to dark and intense utterances. Orchestraltuttis are few, so when they are employed they are all the more effective,nowhere more so than in the closing section. For this Rawsthorne has reservedthe most sustained use of the full orchestra, with the original themereappearing at its culmination on the brass, now reinforced by the gong. Thisleads to a short Allegro molto tail-piece for strings and brass. In thefinal bar the strings fall away to leave the brass exposed with an exultant Bmajor chord, whose scoring would not be out of place in Berlioz.
The use of the term 'symphonic' cannot be ignored. Whilst this work doesnot have pretensions to be a single movement symphony, the means employed todevelop the seminal materials within the chosen framework are wholly symphonicin their rigour; they convince by their germinal elegance, not just within eachsection, but across the entire work, welding the structure into a compellingwhole.
The Cheltenham International Festival of Music, begun in 1945, providedRawsthorne with seven first performances; the first of these was the Concertofor Oboe and String Orchestra in 1947. It was performed by Evelyn Rothwell,the dedicatee, with the Halle Orchestra conducted not by her husband, Sir JohnBarbirolli, but by the composer. Ever sensitive to form, proportion andaptness, Rawsthorne took the baroque French Overture as a model for the firstmovement, with its slow, majestic and passionate opening. A flourish on theoboe leads to the animated middle section in which the thematic content of theopening is developed, prior to the restatement of the introduction, now moreruminative and plaintive. The middle movement's marking Allegretto conmorbidezza indicates that it is to be played not too fast and softly ordelicately. Compliance with this brings a note of tenderness to the prevailingsad introspection, through which a wistful slow waltz is to be heard.
The opening theme of the last movement, Vivace, introduces us toRawsthorne the playful wit who, as in other works, resorts to ajig-cum-tarantella to provide a dash to the finishing post. This is in markedcontrast to what has gone immediately before, though it does not entirelymanage to dispel the introspection of the preceding movement. A shortcadenza-like passage heralds thefinal scamper for home.
Rawsthorne providedhis own note for the Concerto for Violoncello and Orchestra which hadits first performance at a Royal Philharmonic Concert in 1966. "Althoughthe first movement of this Concerto falls into seven sections based on onetheme, it should be heard as a continuous piece rather than as a set ofvariations in a formal sense. In the first of these sections the soloist statesthe theme; the last is in the nature of a recapitulation. After the theme hasbeen heard, the cor anglais introduces a more melancholy mood (meno mosso), whichpresently gives way to a return to the original tempo, where the cello startsto play lively figurations of the melody. These passages work up to introducethe fourth section, with a powerful tutti. The cello enters and continues thestrenuous character of this with bravura passages. The fifth section reverts toa more meditative mood, and the cello enters to play a little duet with the coranglais. The music works up to a climax, and the sixth section is a vehementparagraph for orchestra only. After a short cadenza the cello settles down toplay a series of quiet arpeggios, over which the oboe starts to recapitulatethe theme, and the piece ends very quietly.
The material of theslow movement consists of an orchestral introduction leading to a very sadmelody played by the soloist, and a second idea which forms a middle section.
This takes the form of a very free, rhapsodic kind of melodic line against abackground of sustained chords by the orchestra. There follows some developmentof the first subject and, after a large orchestral climax and a short cadenza,a brief reference is made to the second subject by the clarinet. A muchabbreviated recapitulation concludes the movement.
The last movementstarts with a reference to the theme of the first, and spends some time, duringits course, in working these allusions together with the new material which ismore properly its own. It has a scherzando idea for a middle section, ofwhich a short phrase serves as a subject for fugal development. In a fairlylengthy coda two of the themes are heard in combination with a fresh one, andthe Concerto finishes with a bravura climax."
John M. Belcher