RAWSTHORNE: Concerto for String Orchestra / Divertimento / Elegiac Rhapsody (Conrad Marshall/ David Lloyd-Jones/ John Turner/ Northern Chamber Orchestra/ Rebecca Goldberg) (Naxos: 8.553567)
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Alan Rawsthorne (1905-1971) Concerto for String Orchestra
Concertante pastorale for Flute, Horn andStrings
Light Music for Strings (based on CatalanTunes)
Suite for Recorder and String Orchestra
Elegiac Rhapsody for String Orchestra
Divertimento for Chamber Orchestra
Alan Rawsthome was born on 2nd May 1905 inthe Lancashire town of Haslingden and reached his early twenties beforedeciding to take up music as his chosen career. Fortunately he abandoned earlystudy of dentistry in favour of architecture, but failure in the preliminarystages of these disciplines provided a passport to the Royal Manchester Collegeof Music, to study the piano and the cello. On leaving college in 1930 hecontinued his studies abroad, notably of the piano with Egon Petri. From 1932to 1934 he taught at Dartington Hall and was composer-in-residence for theSchool of Dance and Mime. He won his first notable success at the LondonFestival of the International Society for Contemporary Music in 1938 with aperformance of his Theme and Variations for Two Violins. A furthersuccess came at the Warsaw Festival of the same organization in 1939 with his SymphonicStudies, a first and highly accomplished orchestral score, which was to winan established place in orchestral repertoire. Following the war, in which heserved in the Army, he devoted himself to composition and between then and hisdeath in 1971, though not prolific, he produced a number of substantial worksin most of the established forms, many of these in response to commissions,including a very distinguished contribution to music for films, Between 1937and 1964 he wrote scores for 26 films, including The Cruel Sea, The CaptiveHeart, Where No Vultures Fly, Saraband for Dead Lovers, West of Zanzibar andPandora and the Flying Dutchman.
Rawsthorne demonstrated his owndistinctive voice from the very earliest of his published compositions, Hisworks are marked by clarity of expression and form, craftsmanship andconcision, The characteristics of the rejected disciplines of dentistry andarchitecture are to be found in his music, the precision of the former and theshapeliness and form of the latter. His personality shows through in a degreeof understatement, refusal to compromise or follow fashion and, where fitting,dry wit, He published some seventy works, including valuable additions to thepiano repertoire, a distinguished body of chamber music, three symphonies,eight concertos, fifteen orchestral works, a ballet score and a handful ofchoral works and songs.
Rawsthorne's Concerto for StringOrchestra received its first performance on Radio Hilversum in June 1949,with a performance at a London Promenade Concert the following August. It is inthree movements. The main subject of the first movement is stated in the twoopening bars, before launching into a turbulent molto allegro, establishingthe restlessness, felt even in its quieter moments, which pervades the wholemovement. The second subject is identifiable by its broken and resolute rhythm,in the process of development becoming a fertile source for new material. Alyrical point of sad repose, provided by solo violin over tremolando strings,is curtailed by a return to the predominant turbulence, and leads to an abruptconclusion. The second movement has three main sections. The principal theme,reminiscent of the baroque sequence of La folia, is given to the violasand later developed by the upper strings. The theme of the second section issolemn, with stormy undercurrents, and distinguished by irregular bar lengths.
Characteristic of Rawsthorne is the shortened version of the opening melodywhich forms the coda. The third movement follows without a break. Here the openintervals bring a change of mood, now optimistic and sunny. It proceeds by anumber of episodes, some introducing new material, giving it the feel of arondo. A fugato derived from the main theme of the first movementcombines with the principal melody of the present movement, which comes todominate. An emphatic coda brings the work to a close.
Rawsthorne's Concertante pastorale, apiece for a summer evening, is written for solo flute and horn with strings,and was composed for the Hampton Court Orangery Concerts, where it wasperformed in the year of its composition, 1951. The mood of the whole work isprefigured in the instruction that the principal theme, played on the horn atthe outset, should be sweet and lyrical. This theme is developed in a series ofepisodes in some of which contrast is provided by using the flute incharacteristically florid passage-work. Elsewhere the solo instruments enterinto cheerful dialogue and alternate in accompanying one another's statement ofthe principal theme. A solo violin heralds the closing pages, in which theflute plays the principal theme in its lowest register, accompanied by themuted horn in a haunting passage of outstanding aural imagination. A successionof chords, played pianissimo on divided strings, resolve to bring ahushed close.
The Light Music for Strings, ashort work for string orchestra, is based on Catalan tunes. It was written forthe Workers' Music Association and first performed in 1938. It is in threesections, the first an amiable Allegro poco maestoso, followed by an Andantedrammatico interlude which leads into a jovial Allegro vivace finalsection. The provenance and date of the piece portray the composer's sympathiesin the Spanish Civil War, an event which drew responses from many contemporaryartists. Elsewhere Rawstborne incorporated a snatch of the revolutionary song Bandierarossa in the climax of the last movement of his First Piano Concerto, whichalso received its first performance in 1938.
A copy of the manuscript of the Suitefor Recorder and String Orchestra, later orchestrated by John McCabe, cameinto the possession of the Alan Rawsthorne Society in 1992, as a Suite forViola d'amore and Piano. It dates from the 1940s and examination of themanuscript disclosed that this had almost certainly been adapted from a versionfor recorder. Mention of such a work had been made in an article in the musicalpress in 1940 in which it was stated that publication would have to be delayed 'owingto the present emergency'. The antique forms of the movements are congruentwith an instrument readily associated with early music. Rawsthorne's verydistinctive voice dispels any hint of pastiche. A short opening Sarabande ischaracteristically majestic, and nods in the direction of La folia. The Fantasiais composed on the English ballad Wooddy-Cock, to be found in theFitzwilliam Virginal Book. The Air is a graceful melody which isinverted in the middle section, and the work ends with a lively and unbuttoned Jig.
The arrangement of the piano accompaniment for strings was undertaken byJohn McCabe for the Rawsthorne Trust.
The score of Rawsthorne's ElegiacRhapsody bears the superscription In Memoriam Louis MacNeice. Thepoet, a friend of the composer, died in September 1963 and the firstperformance of this tribute was in January 1964. The Rhapsody consistsof two elegiac elements stated at the outset, the first expressing sorrow andresignation, the second vehement protest. What follows is an exploration oftheir contrasting relationships and gives the work its rondo-like structure ofalternating slow and quick sections, with the slow sections becoming shorter asthe work progresses, patterning the ebb and flow of grief, The first, sorrowfulidea is