Symphony in G minor
Overture for a Masque
London Philharmonic Orchestra [Sinfonietta / Overture]
New Philharmonia Orchestra
Sir Adrian Boult
Recording dates and locations not advised in Lyritas annotation; copyright dates are 1968 [Sinfonietta], 1970 [Symphony] and 1975
Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse
Reviewed: April 2007
CD No: LYRITA SRCD.247
Duration: 79 minutes
This disc of music by E. J. Moeran (1894-1950) is valuable in its restoring to the catalogue pioneering performances that are benchmarks in their own right. Sir Adrian Boult was a mainstay of Lyrita in its heyday, and these recordings – expertly transferred to the digital medium – exude timeless authority (unlike, it must be said, booklet notes by the venerable triumvirate of Michael Williamson, Geoffrey Crankshaw and Frank Howes – all of which should have been retired gracefully prior to this reissue).
Although his mastery of large-scale form was slow in coming, Ernest John Moeran’s achievements were greater in this regard than in almost any of his British contemporaries. Thus the celebratory Overture for a Masque (1944) evinces keen tonal and expressive contrasts that might well have eluded the troops who heard it at the ENSA concerts for which it was commissioned, while the Sinfonietta (also 1944) is a compact symphony in all but name. Boult delineates its opening sonata Allegro ideally, unfolds the central Theme and Variations so a cumulative logic is never in doubt, and brings the finale’s themes into a purposeful accord such as makes this movement the audible culmination of the whole work. Had Hindemith or Stravinsky written it, the Sinfonietta might more nearly have received its due.
Nevertheless, it is the Symphony in G minor that is the principal work here. Composed during the mid-1930s (though conceived a decade earlier), it at one time enjoyed a reputation hardly less than that of Walton’s First – and though the latter exudes a greater expressive potency, Moeran’s is the finer symphony. Sibelius is customarily spoken of as the pervasive influence, but though Moeran partakes of the Finnish master’s soundworld, his tonal processes are very different and distinctly personal.
Other than a sympathetic but too often lacklustre account from Neville Dilkes, Boult’s was the first recording issued since Leslie Heward’s classic account and though there have been some fine versions since (not least those by Vernon Handley and David Lloyd-Jones), it retains its pre-eminence.
Certainly none of these later performance finds so perfect a balance between the first movement’s expressive fervency and its formal poise (that Moran has here penned a sonata Allegro in advance of anything Bax achieved is worth remembering), or plumbs the Lento’s anxious depths with as keen an awareness of its tonal ebb and flow (Sibelius could no more have written this than could Moeran the Largo of the former’s Fourth Symphony). The scherzo with two trios that is the Vivace has a deft incisiveness that leaves other versions floundering in its wake, while the fantasia-like finale (could Moeran have been inspired in writing this by having at least seen the score of the masterly G minor Symphony by Stenhammar?) is thought through with a conviction that makes the uncompromising coda a striking but also necessary outcome. At a time when its return to the concert hall seems further away than ever, Moeran’s Symphony and Boult’s recording of it are to be cherished.