Daniel Jones’s Symphonies 3 & 5 [Lyrita]

4 of 5 stars

Daniel Jones
Symphonies – No.3 (1951)a; No.5 (1958)b

BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra
Bryden Thomson

Broadcast recordings from BBC Studios, Cardiff on aJanuary 26th and bFebruary 9th, 1990

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: July 2021
Duration: 68 minutes



The Lyrita Recorded Edition Trust Archive here puts listeners further in its debt with the latest instalment of Symphonies by Daniel Jones (1921-1993), the Swansea-based composer who is arguably the foremost Welsh symphonist of his generation. As with the previous two releases (Nos. 1 and 10 on SRCD358, Nos. 2 and 11 on SRCD364), these performances derive from a broadcast cycle of the Symphonies the then BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra undertook with its then principal conductor Bryden Thomson in the run-up to the composer’s 80th-birthday.

Given its studio premiere in 1952 then a public performance at the Cheltenham Festival four years on, the Third Symphony introduces a new concision into Jones’s previously expansive thinking. The work’s defining theme unfolds surreptitiously at the start of an Allegro whose underlying restlessness is intensified by a tensile development then a modified reprise which brings the music round, albeit uneasily, to its beginning. The Lento that follows ranks among its composer’s major symphonic statements (as was quickly recognised), its elegiac opening on strings presaging the methodical build-up to a climax whose plangency is the more acute for its brevity – after which, the music subsides towards a sombre ending. With its ingenious eliding between Scherzo and Finale, the closing Allegro renews the tonal conflict heard at the outset via a process that is rhythmically propulsive and almost entirely developmental, right through to the coda where ongoing antagonisms yield only the hardest-won triumph. Clearly this was a watershed for Jones whose achievement duly informed his subsequent Symphonies.

Less so, maybe, in the Fourth Symphony that Jones wrote in memory of Dylan Thomas but most definitely the Fifth, whose 1959 premiere at Royal Festival Hall secured the composer one of his most enduring successes. The canny interplay between asymmetrical phrases and symmetrical paragraphs here comes into its own – not least the opening Allegro whose well defined themes make possible a resourceful development then, after the shortened reprise, a searching coda. Less a Scherzo than a swift intermezzo, its successor passes through several pertly characterised episodes (subtly modifying the ‘scherzo and trio’ archetype) which are quizzically marked off by glockenspiel. By contrast, the ensuing Lento centres on a melody whose expansive processional admits of more austere and agitated elements on the way to a fatalistic close. It remains for the final Allegro to integrate the preceding and often disparate musical facets via themes whose interrelated nature ensures a tight integration of formal and expressive means across trenchantly contrapuntal textures, then on to a decisive conclusion.

It should be emphasised that both the broadcasts, if not without passing technical fallibilities, are always aware of what affords this music its integrity and humanity. The remastered sound has come up well in terms of clarity and warmth, with Paul Conway contributing his typically detailed booklet notes.

Good to hear broadcast recordings of Symphonies 12 and 13 (also the Symphonic Prologue?) are in preparation – after which Lyrita ought to consider issuing those Symphonies by Alun Hoddinott (Nos.1, 4 and 7-10) as have yet to be commercially released.

Further information here.

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