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Penguin Guide, January 2009

The novelty here is Aphrodite in Aulis, and exquisite miniature creating a delicate vision of its mythological Greek namesake. But there are equally dainty textures in the engaging flimsy Waltz (languidamente) of the Elizabethan Suite (which opens and closes more robustly) and the fragile Poco allegretto fifth movement, a gentle Pavane. Jonathan Small also finds intricate delicacy and charm in the pastorale filigree of the Oboe Concerto, improvisational in feeling, with a wide variety of mood and tempo in its two movements. Eleanor Hudson’s contribution on the harp is much lower in profile. The Innumerable Dance Overture (inspired by William Blake) is an evocation of spring, and Lloyd-Jones creates the opening sunrise sequence most beautifully; The Magic Island (Prospero’s) is no less hauntingly atmospheric, but more romantic. The jolly Festival March has a rather good tune in the spirit of Elgar, but not quite Elgarian. In short, these are all highly responsive performances, beautifully played by the Liverpool orchestra, and very well recorded with appealing transparency of texture, except for a degree of thickness in the tuttis of the Elizabethan Suite.

American Record Guide, June 2007

This is a nice collection of lighter orchestral works by the British symphonist, William Alwyn. It begins with Elizabethan Dances, which he wrote for the BBC's Light Music Festival in 1957. The six-movement suite alternates between the dance styles of the periods presided over by the two British Elizabeths. First comes Elizabeth I, with a Moderato e Ritmico suggestive of a dance of pipes and tabors. Next is a haunting, dreamy waltz – more visions and images than an actual dance. Allegro Scherzando is a Morris Dance that sometimes seems unsure which Elizabeth it belongs to. The bluesy Moderato could have been written for an evening movie scene in a large modern city. More than any other piece here, it reminds us that Alwyn was an active composer for the cinema. Poco Allegretto is a mysterious pavane that goes well with the more pastoral works. The notes say the Allegro Giocoso "alternates between a hornpipe and rumba". Those effects are vague, but it is certainly a catchy, rhythmic, slightly jazzy, and triumphant conclusion to the suite.

The Concerto for Oboe, Harp, and Strings contains two movements. Andante e Rubato is a pastorale, with the oboe singing like a shepherd in a manner typical of English Impressionism. The sleek Vivace is a lightly vigorous, urbane, and catchy dance, with the oboe darting about like a firefly. Before the end, Alwyn adds a bit of intensity, then relaxes at what sounds like the descent of night.

Symphonic Prelude – The Magic Island (1952), drawn from Shakespeare's Tempest on a commission from John Barbirolli, comes closest among these works to Alwyn's symphonic style, though it is not as bold. The work is clearly suggestive of the sea, with uneasy and supernatural overtones. A quote from Tempest describes it well: “… the Isle is full of noises", including the lapping of waves, distant Sirens from across the sea, winds, and suggestions of approaching storms.

Several of Alwyn's works were inspired by the poetry of William Blake. One was Innumerable Dance – An English Overture (1933), a sprightly tone poem devoted to spring. It is a fresh, upbeat work, strong in the influence of Holst, Vaughan Williams, Delius, and Frank Bridge's Enter Spring, along with suggestions in the climaxes of what was to come from the mature Alwyn. (Alwyn also set Part I of Blake's Marriage of Heaven' and Hell for soloists, chorus and orchestra. I suspect I would prefer it to the setting by William Bolcom and beg Chandos or Naxos to record it.)

Aphrodite in Aulis – an Eclogue for Small Orchestra (1932) is based on the eponymous novel by George Moore about a sculptor looking for a woman on whom to model a sculpture of Aphrodite. This short synthesis of Delius and Vaughan Williams quietly and reflectively describes the beauty of Aphrodite.

Alwyn applied the march style of Elgar and (especially) Walton to Festival March, though Alwyn's touch is lighter, more sprightly, and less grand and martial. He wrote the piece for the 1951 Festival of Britain.

The first four works (as listed in the heading) are available as couplings on different Chandos releases led by Richard Hickox. Symphonic Prelude was also recorded by the composer on Lyrita. The last two are recorded here for the first time. Not only is this a fine collection for those who have collected the Naxos series of Alwyn's symphonies; but I actually prefer Lloyd-Jones’s light, subtle touch, and Naxos’s comparable sound, in these particular pieces to the heavier approach of Hickox and Chandos. Throw in two previously unavailable works, and you have something that anyone interested in Alwyn or British music in general should have.

David Hurwitz, April 2007

William Alwyn's Elizabethan Dances cleverly alternates music evocative of Tudor and modern times, recalling the reigns of both Queen Elizabeths. It's a work that deserves to be popular, as does all of this music. The Concerto for Oboe, Harp, and Strings is wholly lovely, while the shorter works reveal Alwyn's typically high level of craftsmanship, discerning use of orchestral color, and ability to spin out a good tune. Two of the pieces, The Innumerable Dance and Aphrodite in Aulis, are receiving their premiere recordings, but all of the performances are excellent and fully comparable to the best of the (admittedly sparse) competition. If you've been collecting Naxos' excellent Alwyn cycle, you can purchase this latest release without hesitation, particularly as the sound is as warm and vibrant as the interpretations themselves.

Christopher Thomas
MusicWeb International, March 2007

The fruits of the partnership between Naxos and David Lloyd-Jones have surely developed into something way beyond the early expectations of either record company or listener. Whilst the breadth and technical quality of the Naxos catalogue have continued to grow apace, in Lloyd –Jones we have found a conductor that could be said to rival Vernon Handley in both his championship and interpretation of British music.

The Lloyd-Jones Alwyn orchestral cycle here reaches its fifth installment and in doing so turns away from the symphonies and concertos to an intriguing blend of familiarity in the form of the Elizabethan Dances and The Magic Island, allied with the unfamiliar in The Innumerable Dance and Aphrodite in Aulis. The latter two works have not seen the light of day in over seventy years.

The suite of six Elizabethan Dances has long been one of Alwyn’s most popular pieces, although to describe this as light music would be potentially to trivialise the quality of the composer’s work. The pieces were however commissioned by the BBC for its Light Music Festival of 1957. As with all of Alwyn’s music they are beautifully crafted, both in terms of the inspiration and the orchestration, alternating music that calls on the times of Elizabeth I and Elizabeth II for its contrasting moods. It is the slower of the dances that truly lingers in the mind, the wonderfully languid waltz that sits second in the suite and the penultimate dance, a beautiful Poco Allegretto e semplice that distantly and hauntingly echoes the earlier waltz. Many will be familiar with Alwyn’s own recording of the Elizabethan Dances on Lyrita, and a fine recording it is, although Lloyd-Jones and the RLPO here provide a very viable alternative at bargain price.

The Innumerable Dance – An English Overture, dates from Alwyn’s twenty-eighth year and as such reflects a less individual though no less finely honed compositional voice. Drawing its title and inspiration from the second book of William Blake’s Milton, the work is an evocation of spring in which the influence of several composers flits across the surface of the music. Not that this fact detracts from the overall result, which is both beautifully orchestrated and charming. It is hard to believe that this is music that has gathered dust for so long and entirely fitting that the RLPO give it a thoroughly convincing premiere recording.

In the Concerto for Oboe, Harp and String Orchestra of ten years later there is still the occasional reminder of the origins of Alwyn’s stylistic language - Delius is the most prominent voice - but there is also a sense of refinement of that language. In two substantial movements, the first a pastoral Andante e rubato and the second a lively Vivace, it is the oboe that figures most prominently whilst Alwyn’s writing for the instrument is exquisite in its nuance and subtlety.

By the time of the Symphonic Prelude “The Magic Island” Alwyn was at the height of his powers and it is immediately obvious why. From the opening bars the composer creates a gripping sense of drama in what is effectively a tone poem based on Shakespeare’s immortal passage from The Tempest commencing “the isle is full of noises”. Alwyn quotes the complete passage at the head of the score. The work easily ranks alongside the finest of the Bax tone poems and although Lloyd-Jones and the RLPO cannot quite eclipse the power of the composer’s own recording on Lyrita, it runs it pretty close.

That leaves two relative miniatures in the form of Aphrodite in Aulis – An Eclogue for Small Orchestra after George Moore, and the Festival March of 1951. The Eclogue predates The Innumerable Dance by only twelve months and is another charmingly engaging if brief work that is utterly undeserving of its neglect. In many ways the Festival March is less successful. Written on a grand scale for the 1951 Festival of Britain and very much in the manner of Elgar, or perhaps more fittingly Walton’s Crown Imperial and Orb and Sceptre, the piece does not possess the thematic clout to have kept it in the repertoire to the degree of either the Elgar or the Walton. It does however provide a rousing conclusion to the disc.

With two premiere recordings included, Alwyn enthusiasts cannot afford to be without this disc, which represents another notable success in Naxos’s championship of a still underrated composer. Roll on the chamber music later in the year.

Inverness Courier, February 2007

The fifth disc in Naxos's ongoing survey of the orchestral music of English composer William Alwyn (1905-85) includes two very attractive short works that have never been recorded before. Both Aphrodite in Aulis and The Innumerable Dance: An English Overture are inspired by literary sources (the latter, a beautiful evocation of spring, by lines from William Blake's Milton ), and are worthwhile retrievals. The expansive Symphonic Prelude: The Magic Island also has a literary inspiration in The Tempest . His set of six vibrant and skillfully scored Elizabethan Dances are more familiar, and make an attractive opening to the disc, while his Festival March is much in the manner of Elgar and Walton. The lovely two-movement Concerto for Oboe, Harp and Strings was written in the depths of World War, II but evokes an idyllic vision. Jonathan Small is the oboe soloist, with Eleanor Hudson on harp, and David Lloyd-Jones conducts the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic in all of the works.

Jeremy Nicholas
Classic FM, February 2007

Those with a penchant for evocative English music will not be disappointed by this fifth volume of Naxos's cycle of the complete orchestral works by William Alwyn (1905-85). The expert and imaginative scoring at the service of such works as The Innumerable Dance (1933) and Aphrodite in Aulius (1932), both world premiere recordings, makes one lament the absence of Alwyn's works in the concert hall. Contrast these with the Elgarian Festival March, the wistful Oboe Concerto and the exuberant Elizabethan Dances and you have another winner from this superb team.

Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International, February 2007

More goodies from the Alwyn-Naxos series. This one includes two world premiere recordings, always an enticing prospect for enthusiasts and completists. And the performances are as assured as before, which ensures a guarantee of corporate confidence in the repertoire. The Elizabethan Dances are charming and evocative pieces, rather different in texture and intent from the more rustic evocations of, say, Rubbra’s Farnaby Dances. The vigorous tabor intimations of the first dance fuse with the salute to the later Elizabeth in the second in the form of a gentle waltz. The Pavane is warm and delightful and the second Elizabethan Age is embraced with a frisky rumba rhythm, which shows its Janus face by rendering up a hornpipe as well. The Innumerable Dance is a tone poem with its complement of Bax and Holst moments. It’s at its most appealing however in the more verdant and openhearted sections where Straussian effulgence reigns. The more cock-eyed folkloric sections have a distinctly Graingeresque cast and are full of fun and enjoyment. The Concerto for Oboe, Harp and Strings was written during the War and was premiered by Evelyn Barbirolli. Here Jonathan Small plays with no little eloquence and timbral variety in its cause. The pastoral is not entirely unclouded, and its modal moments are calming and stoic. The first part, Andante e rubato, at one point even seems to pay homage – explicit or unconscious it’s hard to tell which - to Delius’s The Walk to the Paradise Garden. The second part is necessarily more active and incisive with its folksy fugato and the slow central section. The quiet and reflective passage preceding the final flourish of optimism is highly affecting. Aphrodite in Aulis is, with The Innumerable Dance, previously unrecorded. It’s a small five-minute eclogue inspired by a George Moore novel. It’s not desperately distinctive. Much the same can be said of the 1951 Festival March, which has its share of off-the-peg Waltonisms about it. A work cut from a different cloth is the following year’s The Magic Island. Inspired by The Tempest this is a rightly admired and successful work. The sense of tension and zestful release is ever audible and even Alwyn’s clearly quite deliberate Wagnerian evocations take their rightful place in this fulsome and engaging score. It’s still more engaging in the composer’s own recording with the LPO on Lyrita. There the strings are more suave and tactile, rhythms bite more deeply and Alwyn "places" the Caliban incidents with greater immediacy and dynamism. If you want personality and a fine tension-menace quotient you’ll find it there. By comparison Lloyd-Jones sounds rather undercooked. Still let’s not leave moaning. Two premiere recordings at bargain cost and generally excellent performances are not to be spurned lightly.

Bob McQuiston
Classical Lost and Found, January 2007

There are goodies galore including two world premiere recordings on this welcome release from Naxos. Best known for his five symphonies and a number of classic British films scores, English composer William Alwyn (1905-1985) wrote many outstanding shorter orchestral works, some of which appear here. The concert begins with his six Elizabethan Dances. These alternate in mood between what you would have heard in the times of Elizabeths I & II. Highlights include a spirited pipe and tabor caper, a sassy Morris dance and a closing branle of jubilation, which has a rhythmic energy worthy of Leonard Bernstein's Candide Overture or the more colorful choreographic numbers in his Fancy Free. With a title almost longer than the piece itself, The Innumerable Dance -- An English Overture follows. Inspired by a poem in William Blake's Milton, Alwyn uses his considerable talents as an orchestrator to recreate the vernal atmosphere evoked in print. A world premiere recording, romantic music lovers will be thrilled to discover this splendid ten-minute tone poem. A delightful two-movement concerto for oboe, harp and strings comes next. The opening section is quite nostalgic and pastoral sounding, while the closing one is a spirited dance made all the more piquant by the presence of a double-reed soloist. The concert continues with the brief eclogue Aphrodite in Aulis. This is another world premiere recording and an absolute gem. A symphonic prelude entitled "The Magic Island" follows, where the isle in question is Prospero's from Shakespeare's The Tempest. This is one of the composer's most exquisite creations because he manages in the space of just ten-minutes to capture all of the moods and atmosphere of that enchanted habitat. The spirits of Claude Debussy and Karol Szymanowski are certainly manifest, which is not surprising when you consider Alwyn had studied their scores extensively. This exceptional program concludes with a festival march, which couldn't be more English. You'll find it ranks right up there with those of Sirs Edward Elgar and William Walton. Naxos scores again handily with this engaging disc. By the way, several years ago Lyrita released two CDs of what many consider definitive performances of Alwyn's symphonies with the composer conducting. Unfortunately these discs were only briefly available and a great number of classical collectors failed to get them. If you missed out the first time around, now's your big chance, because they've just been reissued.

Rob Barnett
MusicWeb International, December 2006

The four previous Alwyn volumes from Naxos have done well and here the standard has not slipped.

Not content with generosity and higher bargain price Naxos offer us two more pieces of Alwyn not previously recorded. These make this disc an essential purchase.

The tangily-titled overture The Innumerable Dance derives its name from fragrantly verdant verse in Blake’s ‘Milton’. You need to remember that between 1933 and 1938 he wrote a massive work for soli, chorus and orchestra on Blake’s Marriage of Heaven and Hell; something we need to hear. The music of the overture has some kinship with Delius and Moeran; you must remember that this is very early Alwyn. Its fly-away delicacy is also redolent of Holst. It is most transparently orchestrated and its triumphant celebration of Spring places it with two more complex works: Bridge’s Enter Spring and John Foulds’ April-England.

Aphrodite in Aulos is referred to as an Eclogue inspired by the George Moore novel of the same name. Moore is now desperately unfashionable and his writing is pretty indigestible. In Alwyn’s dreamily Delian music summer breathes easily; indeed the whole piece communicates as a single sweetly arched sigh.

The Oboe Concerto was premiered by Evelyn Barbirolli on 12 April 1949 in London. It’s a two movement work of meditative and dreamily contented Delian inclination. Its kinship is with the much later Arnold Oboe Concerto written for Leon Goossens.

Alwyn put aside these moods as the years passed and so we come to a piece that music-lovers who discovered Alwyn in the LP age will already know. The Magic Island Prelude appeared on an early Lyrita (SRCS63 still available in a new coupling as SRCD229) with the Third Symphony. Here the manner we know from the symphonies is apparent but cross-cut with &lsqu exotic’ Hispanic voices from Ravel. If Alwyn’s vision of the magical island is more grandiose and less enchantingly delicate than I would have expected this piece remains atmospheric.

The dance theme continues with the Elizabethan Dances which start with courtly echoes from the Court of the First Elizabeth to which we return for the allegro scherzando which is splashed with the sort of playfulness to be found in Bridge’s Roger de Coverley. This contrasts with rapturous and even exotic dances (trs. 2, 4, 6) with the psychological reach of a Prokofiev waltz or the tension-charged dances from Barber’s Souvenirs. These dances were preceded in 1946 by a Suite of Scottish Dances.

The disc ends with the Festival March premiered by Sargent conducting the LPO on 21 May 1951. This is an inspired and dignified but not very personal piece of jobbery assuming the loose-fitting panoply of Elgar and Walton in much the same way as Howard Ferguson did for his 1953 Overture for an Occasion.

Alwyn’s short orchestral works can be heard on both Chandos (conducted by Hickox) and Lyrita (Alwyn). These are full price items and the couplings differ from the present one so there is little point in comparison. All I need say is that the recording is natural without being distanced and that the performances evince commitment and a sympathy for the composer’s varying styles. Clearly if you have already launched out on the Naxos route for the Alwyn symphonies you will need to have this. In any event Alwynites will want this for the unique experience of hearing more than sixteen minutes of previously unrecorded orchestral Alwyn.

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9:33:01 PM, 26 November 2015
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