Symphony No.5 (Hydriotaphia)
Lyra Angelica Concerto for harp and string orchestra
Suzanne Willison (harp)
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
Recorded between 4-6 January 2005 in the Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool
Reviewed by: Mike Wheeler
Reviewed: October 2005
CD No: NAXOS 8.557647
Duration: 70 minutes
The disc, the first of three to cover William Alwyn’s five symphonies, gets off to a turbulent start with the seething opening bars of Alwyn’s Fifth Symphony. Dating from 1973, it is Alwyn’s tribute to a favourite author, the 17th-century writer Sir Thomas Browne, whose “Hydriotaphia” (Urn Burial) provides its subtitle and its expressive framework. It is a compact single-movement work of great dramatic power, with unexpected echoes of Walton in the scherzo third section. David Lloyd-Jones directs a performance that is taut and energetic in the fast music, broad and spacious in the slow sections. The numerous woodwind solos are eloquently played.
Alwyn (1905-1985) completed his Symphony No.2 twenty years earlier. It is as expansive as No.5 is concentrated, in two large movements. It has something of Bax’s expressive potency without his tendency to grandiloquence. The performance shapes the various facets of its wide expressive range – gentle lyricism, driving energy, the steady build-up of tension – with equal conviction.
In between comes Lyra Angelica, a concerto for harp and strings written a year after the Second Symphony. It is a more serene work than either symphony, with a melodic style that may appeal to anyone who enjoys the work of Gerald Finzi, and a metaphysical outlook that suggests a kindred spirit in Edmund Rubbra. Suzanne Willison sounds thoroughly immersed in its expressive world, and the RLPO strings create luminously beautiful sonorities. Harp resonance is beautifully caught in a recording that is more immediate than for either of the symphonies, where detail is sometimes lost in fully scored passages.
Reference to the four composers mentioned above is not intended to suggest that Alwyn’s music is derivative in any way; it’s a matter of affinity rather than influence. For anyone exploring it for the first time, this disc, especially Lyra Angelica, is an excellent place to start.