|About this Recording
8.553567 - RAWSTHORNE: Concerto for String Orchestra / Divertimento / Elegiac Rhapsody
Alan Rawsthorne (1905-1971) Concerto for String Orchestra
Alan Rawsthome was born on 2nd May 1905 in the Lancashire town of Haslingden and reached his early twenties before deciding to take up music as his chosen career. Fortunately he abandoned early study of dentistry in favour of architecture, but failure in the preliminary stages of these disciplines provided a passport to the Royal Manchester College of Music, to study the piano and the cello. On leaving college in 1930 he continued his studies abroad, notably of the piano with Egon Petri. From 1932 to 1934 he taught at Dartington Hall and was composer-in-residence for the School of Dance and Mime. He won his first notable success at the London Festival of the International Society for Contemporary Music in 1938 with a performance of his Theme and Variations for Two Violins. A further success came at the Warsaw Festival of the same organization in 1939 with his Symphonic Studies, a first and highly accomplished orchestral score, which was to win an established place in orchestral repertoire. Following the war, in which he served in the Army, he devoted himself to composition and between then and his death in 1971, though not prolific, he produced a number of substantial works in most of the established forms, many of these in response to commissions, including a very distinguished contribution to music for films, Between 1937 and 1964 he wrote scores for 26 films, including The Cruel Sea, The Captive Heart, Where No Vultures Fly, Saraband for Dead Lovers, West of Zanzibar and Pandora and the Flying Dutchman.
Rawsthorne demonstrated his own distinctive voice from the very earliest of his published compositions, His works are marked by clarity of expression and form, craftsmanship and concision, The characteristics of the rejected disciplines of dentistry and architecture are to be found in his music, the precision of the former and the shapeliness and form of the latter. His personality shows through in a degree of understatement, refusal to compromise or follow fashion and, where fitting, dry wit, He published some seventy works, including valuable additions to the piano repertoire, a distinguished body of chamber music, three symphonies, eight concertos, fifteen orchestral works, a ballet score and a handful of choral works and songs.
Rawsthorne's Concerto for String Orchestra received its first performance on Radio Hilversum in June 1949, with a performance at a London Promenade Concert the following August. It is in three movements. The main subject of the first movement is stated in the two opening bars, before launching into a turbulent molto allegro, establishing the restlessness, felt even in its quieter moments, which pervades the whole movement. The second subject is identifiable by its broken and resolute rhythm, in the process of development becoming a fertile source for new material. A lyrical point of sad repose, provided by solo violin over tremolando strings, is curtailed by a return to the predominant turbulence, and leads to an abrupt conclusion. The second movement has three main sections. The principal theme, reminiscent of the baroque sequence of La folia, is given to the violas and later developed by the upper strings. The theme of the second section is solemn, with stormy undercurrents, and distinguished by irregular bar lengths. Characteristic of Rawsthorne is the shortened version of the opening melody which forms the coda. The third movement follows without a break. Here the open intervals bring a change of mood, now optimistic and sunny. It proceeds by a number of episodes, some introducing new material, giving it the feel of a rondo. A fugato derived from the main theme of the first movement combines with the principal melody of the present movement, which comes to dominate. An emphatic coda brings the work to a close.
Rawsthorne's Concertante pastorale, a piece for a summer evening, is written for solo flute and horn with strings, and was composed for the Hampton Court Orangery Concerts, where it was performed in the year of its composition, 1951. The mood of the whole work is prefigured in the instruction that the principal theme, played on the horn at the outset, should be sweet and lyrical. This theme is developed in a series of episodes in some of which contrast is provided by using the flute in characteristically florid passage-work. Elsewhere the solo instruments enter into cheerful dialogue and alternate in accompanying one another's statement of the principal theme. A solo violin heralds the closing pages, in which the flute plays the principal theme in its lowest register, accompanied by the muted horn in a haunting passage of outstanding aural imagination. A succession of chords, played pianissimo on divided strings, resolve to bring a hushed close.
The Light Music for Strings, a short work for string orchestra, is based on Catalan tunes. It was written for the Workers' Music Association and first performed in 1938. It is in three sections, the first an amiable Allegro poco maestoso, followed by an Andante drammatico interlude which leads into a jovial Allegro vivace final section. The provenance and date of the piece portray the composer's sympathies in the Spanish Civil War, an event which drew responses from many contemporary artists. Elsewhere Rawstborne incorporated a snatch of the revolutionary song Bandiera rossa in the climax of the last movement of his First Piano Concerto, which also received its first performance in 1938.
A copy of the manuscript of the Suite for Recorder and String Orchestra, later orchestrated by John McCabe, came into the possession of the Alan Rawsthorne Society in 1992, as a Suite for Viola d'amore and Piano. It dates from the 1940s and examination of the manuscript disclosed that this had almost certainly been adapted from a version for recorder. Mention of such a work had been made in an article in the musical press in 1940 in which it was stated that publication would have to be delayed 'owing to the present emergency'. The antique forms of the movements are congruent with an instrument readily associated with early music. Rawsthorne's very distinctive voice dispels any hint of pastiche. A short opening Sarabande is characteristically majestic, and nods in the direction of La folia. The Fantasia is composed on the English ballad Wooddy-Cock, to be found in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book. The Air is a graceful melody which is inverted in the middle section, and the work ends with a lively and unbuttoned Jig. The arrangement of the piano accompaniment for strings was undertaken by John McCabe for the Rawsthorne Trust.
The score of Rawsthorne's Elegiac Rhapsody bears the superscription In Memoriam Louis MacNeice. The poet, a friend of the composer, died in September 1963 and the first performance of this tribute was in January 1964. The Rhapsody consists of two elegiac elements stated at the outset, the first expressing sorrow and resignation, the second vehement protest. What follows is an exploration of their contrasting relationships and gives the work its rondo-like structure of alternating slow and quick sections, with the slow sections becoming shorter as the work progresses, patterning the ebb and flow of grief, The first, sorrowful idea is spun out in Bart6k-Iike threads on the high strings. The clamorous protest section, a deploration at the dying of the light, is marked violento, The emotional heart of the work comes in a sobbing, chordal episode, in which the composer displays his deepest feelings, This is a spontaneous, eloquent and solemn tribute from one artist to another.
Rawsthorne composed his Divertimento for Chamber Orchestra in 1961-2 for Harry Blech, who gave its first performance with the London Mozart Players in the latter year, The Divertimento has three movements, Rondo, Lullaby and Jig and is written for flute, two oboes, two bassoons, two horns and strings, The opening bars of the Rondo demonstrate characteristics found throughout Rawsthorne's music, limpid clarity, economy of expression and use of the basic materials and brevity of expression, Affectionate writing shows an innate understanding of the qualities of individual instruments, Rawsthorne was ever anxious to avoid false sentimentality, always eschewing anything remotely bogus, Even so the Lullaby is an unadorned expression of tenderness, The Presto final movement is a dynamic and very unwhimsical Jig which conveys something of the composer's wry wit and joviality.
John M. Belcher
Northern Chamber Orchestra
Close the window