About this Recording
8.554763 - RAWSTHORNE: Cello Concerto / Oboe Concerto / Symphonic Studies
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Alan Rawsthorne (1905-1971)

Cello Concerto • Symphonic Studies • Oboe Concerto

Alan Rawsthorne graduated from the Royal Manchester College of Music in 1929. Following a further two years of study with Egon Petri, he became pianist to the School of Dance at Dartington, leaving in 1934 to follow a career as a freelance composer. He was fortunate to attract the attention of Hubert Foss who became his publisher at Oxford University Press.

Symphonic Studies was his first orchestral score and, given its self-assurance, cogency, uniquely recognisable voice and emotional range, this was a remarkable achievement. It had its first performance at the I.S.C.M. Festival in Warsaw in April 1939 and quickly gained critical acclaim.

The work can be looked upon as a concerto for orchestra with all the opportunities for display which the genre provides. There are five variants on the Maestoso introduction, which play continuously - (i) Allegro di bravura; (ii) Allegretto; (iii) Allegro di bravura; (iv) Lento; (v) Allegro piacevole. Rawsthorne derives all his material from the opening bars. Permutations of the first four notes provide for the melodic and harmonic substance and an extensive range of colours, contrasts and moods - from dramatic declamation (v) to highly expressive melodic lines (ii) and (iv), from assertive brass (v) to the delicate crystalline decorations of harp and celeste (ii) and from the initial easygoing statement of the theme to the academic intensity of a brass fugue encompassed in a single section (v).

Although scored for a large orchestra with triple wind, the orchestration aims at transparency, many passages having a chamber music-like quality. Dramatic point and dramatic intensity derive not so much from instrumental accretions as from chiaroscuro-­like contrasts, building from bright, almost insouciant, openings to dark and intense utterances. Orchestral tuttis are few, so when they are employed they are all the more effective, nowhere more so than in the closing section. For this Rawsthorne has reserved the most sustained use of the full orchestra, with the original theme reappearing at its culmination on the brass, now reinforced by the gong. This leads to a short Allegro molto tail-piece for strings and brass. In the final bar the strings fall away to leave the brass exposed with an exultant B major chord, whose scoring would not be out of place in Berlioz.

The use of the term 'symphonic' cannot be ignored. Whilst this work does not have pretensions to be a single movement symphony, the means employed to develop the seminal materials within the chosen framework are wholly symphonic in their rigour; they convince by their germinal elegance, not just within each section, but across the entire work, welding the structure into a compelling whole.

The Cheltenham International Festival of Music, begun in 1945, provided Rawsthorne with seven first performances; the first of these was the Concerto for Oboe and String Orchestra in 1947. It was performed by Evelyn Rothwell, the dedicatee, with the Hallé Orchestra conducted not by her husband, Sir John Barbirolli, but by the composer. Ever sensitive to form, proportion and aptness, Rawsthorne took the baroque French Overture as a model for the first movement, with its slow, majestic and passionate opening. A flourish on the oboe leads to the animated middle section in which the thematic content of the opening is developed, prior to the restatement of the introduction, now more ruminative and plaintive. The middle movement's marking Allegretto con morbidezza indicates that it is to be played not too fast and softly or delicately. Compliance with this brings a note of tenderness to the prevailing sad introspection, through which a wistful slow waltz is to be heard.

The opening theme of the last movement, Vivace, introduces us to Rawsthorne the playful wit who, as in other works, resorts to a jig-cum-tarantella to provide a dash to the finishing post. This is in marked contrast to what has gone immediately before, though it does not entirely manage to dispel the introspection of the preceding movement. A short cadenza-like passage heralds the final scamper for home.

Rawsthorne provided his own note for the Concerto for Violoncello and Orchestra which had its first performance at a Royal Philharmonic Concert in 1966. "Although the first movement of this Concerto falls into seven sections based on one theme, it should be heard as a continuous piece rather than as a set of variations in a formal sense. In the first of these sections the soloist states the theme; the last is in the nature of a recapitulation. After the theme has been heard, the cor anglais introduces a more melancholy mood (meno mosso), which presently gives way to a return to the original tempo, where the cello starts to play lively figurations of the melody. These passages work up to introduce the fourth section, with a powerful tutti. The cello enters and continues the strenuous character of this with bravura passages. The fifth section reverts to a more meditative mood, and the cello enters to play a little duet with the cor anglais. The music works up to a climax, and the sixth section is a vehement paragraph for orchestra only. After a short cadenza the cello settles down to play a series of quiet arpeggios, over which the oboe starts to recapitulate the theme, and the piece ends very quietly.

The material of the slow movement consists of an orchestral introduction leading to a very sad melody played by the soloist, and a second idea which forms a middle section. This takes the form of a very free, rhapsodic kind of melodic line against a background of sustained chords by the orchestra. There follows some development of the first subject and, after a large orchestral climax and a short cadenza, a brief reference is made to the second subject by the clarinet. A much abbreviated recapitulation concludes the movement.

The last movement starts with a reference to the theme of the first, and spends some time, during its course, in working these allusions together with the new material which is more properly its own. It has a scherzando idea for a middle section, of which a short phrase serves as a subject for fugal development. In a fairly lengthy coda two of the themes are heard in combination with a fresh one, and the Concerto finishes with a bravura climax."

John M. Belcher


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