Symphony No.4 Searle
Symphony No.2, Op.33
London Symphony Orchestra
Sir Eugene Goossens [Still Symphony No.3]
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Myer Fredman [Still No.4]
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Recorded 19 May 1962 [Still 3], 6 January 1970 [Still 4] & 18 September 1973 in Walthamstow Assembly Hall, London
CD No: LYRITA SRCD.285 Duration: 69 minutes Reviewed: April 2009
Lyrita – Robert Still & Humphrey Searle
Reviewed by Peter Joelson
Robert Still (1910-1971) is remembered partly through these Lyrita recordings of two of his four symphonies. Born in London and educated at Eton and Trinity College, Oxford, Still continued his education at the Royal College of Music where he was taught by, among others, Gordon Jacob. After a short spell teaching at Eton College, he became conductor of Les Ballets Trois Arts Company; war service saw his declining a commission and he soon went into the Royal Artillery travelling orchestra, where colleagues included Manoug Parikian and Cecil Aronowitz. After the war, Still, comfortably off, devoted himself to composition. A fine racquets player, he got a blue for real tennis, and continued to play that for the MCC. He died suddenly of a heart attack in 1971.
Still’s First Symphony (1954) was very well received at its first performance in November 1956 with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under Richard Austin, and awaits its first recording, as does the Second (1956) which, in fact, has never been performed. The Third Symphony (1960) is thought to be his magnum opus; it was dedicated to Sir Eugene Goossens who thought very highly of it. It was the last music Goossens conducted before his death, which occurred less than a month after this recording was made.
Still’s Third Symphony is in three movements. The first grabs the attention with brass fanfares, wonderfully produced by here the London Symphony Orchestra’s trumpets, horns and trombones. The second, slow, movement conjures up visions of English rusticity, warmly directed by Goossens; the finale is energetic and confident, again with much for the brass to do, ending with a big finish together. The recording, which was made by Decca engineers for Saga, scarcely shows its age but for a tiny tape fault at the end.
The Fourth Symphony (1964) is in a single movement and resulted from Still’s other great passion than racquet games, a deep interest in psychoanalysis. Inspired by the case history of a young man presented to the Imago Society by Dr Charles Rycroft, the music describes his feelings of persecution and the treatment. There is no programme as such, and the music is quite capable of standing on its feet without resorting to this crutch. The score certainly has its internal battles, with ideas building up and then being dissipated. Towards the end, the mood alters to one of resignation, the ending dying to nothing after a couple quiet rolls on the timpani. Myer Fredman, who had become a friend of the composer, conducted the concert premiere and this recording. Fredman was later engaged by Lyrita to record some of Arnold Bax’s symphonies.
Humphrey Searle (1915-1982) also studied with Gordon Jacob, but it is the period when he studied privately with Anton Webern in 1937-38 that had the most influence on his writing. After working as a producer at the BBC from 1938 to 1948, Searle became in 1951 music advisor to Sadler’s Wells Ballet, taught at the Royal College of Music and was an energetic member of both the Society for the Promotion of New Music and the Composers’ Guild.
Like Benjamin Frankel, Searle wrote symphonies using serial techniques, and also composed much film and radio music, including music for a “Doctor Who” serial in 1965. The Second Symphony was born in tragic times; begun in 1956 and completed in March 1958 the work is dedicated to his first wife, Lesley, who had died of cancer on Christmas Day 1957. In the opening Maestoso, the 12-note series is presented for the first time, and the first movement proper develops into a somewhat ill-at-ease urgency. A more relaxed second subject provides contrast to this, and the two ideas work together very successfully. The slow movement evokes night music, celesta and high strings accompanying the birdcalls made by the wind soloists. The finale follows without a break, reintroducing material from the first, but is developed towards a confident and forceful conclusion.
Josef Krips and the London Philharmonic produce a finely considered reading. It is to be hoped Sir Adrian Boult’s recording of Searle’s First Symphony made for Decca and issued later on a Lyrita LP will resurface.
A very useful essay by Paul Conway accompanies this release, and the re-mastering by Simon Gibson is typically excellent. These Walthamstow Assembly Halls recordings still sound magnificent, the expert ear of engineer Kenneth Wilkinson very much evident. This is yet another very fine and recommendable release on the Lyrita label.