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Steve Schwartz
Classical Net, April 2012

Summary for the Busy Executive: Becoming and being.

This CD mixes Alwyn semi-“hits” with the relatively unknown. The earliest score, the 5 Preludes, shows a young composer in need of an individual voice. Despite their considerable finish, they come across as sketches for something larger. The two works from the Thirties show him trying to find one, mostly by trying on various masks.

David Lloyd-Jones has produced a series that, with certain exceptions (Alwyn’s reading of The Enchanted Island, for example), outdoes the composer’s classic Lyrita accounts. The recorded sound is beautiful without stepping into the over-the-top. One of the best of Naxos’s Alwyn collection. © 2012 Classical Net Read complete review

Andrew King
MUSO, June 2009

This disc, featuring some of Alwyn’s orchestral music, adds to Naxos’ already impressive discography of his music, which includes all the symphonies and piano concertos, among songs and chamber music. The seven works presented here reveal the composer’s own unique sense of lush orchestration and unique harmony.

Responsive to the challenges of orchestral writing, Alwyn gives us music of much under-rated quality and craftsmanship. Each work stands out from the buoyant Overture to a Masque and Concerto Grosso No 1, to the almost Vaughan Williams-ike Pastoral Fantasia, revealing a special quality of string writing only achieved by English composers.

As well as including the world premiere recording of the melancholic but tender Five Preludes, this disc affords us a harrowing performance of the Tragic Interlude and the darkly coloured tone poem Autumn Legends.

Closing with a joyful and committed performance of the Suite of Scottish Dances, this disc is a wonderful cross-section of the unique musicianship achieved by Alwyn. The RLPO gives a balanced, rich performance, wonderfully directed by the ever musically sympathetic David Lloyd-Jones. If you are building up a collection of English music, this disc is a must-have. If you are not, then you should be.

Em Marshall
Albion Magazine Online, January 2009

This disc of William Alwyn's orchestral music opens with the lively Overture to a Masque (composed in 1940), followed by the first of Alwyn's three Concerti Grossi, this one commissioned by the BBC and dedicated to the leader and other players in the London Symphony Orchestra, in which Alwyn had been a flautist. It is an elegant, witty and sophisticated piece, excellently performed by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of David Lloyd-Jones. The ensuing Pastoral Fantasia dates from 1939 and presents a nostalgic vision of an England soon to be lost in the approaching war. Philip Duke is the eloquent viola soloist.

Though the Five Preludes were performed at the BBC Proms in the year they were composed (1927), this is their world premiere recording. Each prelude lasts under two minutes, despite the large orchestral forces, and yet is wonderfully characterful. The Tragic Interlude, prefaced by three lines from Aldington's novel Death of a Hero, is a harrowing work given an intense and dramatic performance here. The following Autumn Legend also has a preface, this time from Rossetti's The Blessed Damozel. The piece, Alwyn's personal tribute to the poet and painter, is another moody work in which the performers create an excellent sense of atmosphere. The disc finishes with a suite of charming Scottish Dances that are given a joyful, light and lively performance in this superb collection of brilliantly-constructed compositions.

Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International, December 2008

Admirers of the fecund Alwyn have good reason to look forward to Naxos’s continuing exploration of his music. This one contains a world premiere in the form of the modest but still engaging six minute Five Preludes of 1927 as well as fine-sounding, idiomatic performances of other orchestral works, some better known to aficionados of the composer’s music than others.

Overture to a Masque is a perky affair that sports a motif that circles swooningly close to Blue Moon and the waft of dance-hall cigarette smoke. Around this evocative B section is the fiery drama of Alwyn in dramatic mode. Three years later came the Concerto Grosso No. 1, something of a concerto for orchestra, full of fanfare bristle and commanding opportunities for, amongst others, the trumpet principal, percussion and solo violin. It was dedicated to the LSO’s then leader George Stratton and ‘my friends in the LSO’—the orchestra in which Alwyn was a flautist. There’s a lovely velvety cushion beneath the cor anglais’s solo in the second movement and the strings respond with real sensitivity in their supportive role. This is refined writing full of excellent distribution of voices. I imagine the vivace finale would have suited Stratton’s rather biting, resinous tone well and there are puckish opportunities for orchestral solos alongside plenty of neo-classical frolics.

The Pastoral Fantasia was premiered by Watson Forbes. It’s a warm, nostalgic opus, very reminiscent—and surely deliberately so—of The Lark Ascending. Those previously unrecorded Preludes were written in 1927. They’re deftly scored miniatures and embrace a charming little waltz and some Chinese effects. What’s most admirable is Alwyn’s gift for quick characterisation—that and his writing for winds which, as one might predict, is first class. The Tragic Interlude followed in 1936—full of baleful, brooding, heavy-booted drama that ends resignedly. Autumn Legend for cor anglais and orchestra is an atmospheric Nordic affair, somewhat aloof and chilly. Whereas the Suite of Scottish Dances is a picture postcard miscellany of frolicsome verve.

The sound in Philharmonic Hall has been captured with first class attention to detail. The two instrumental soloists, Philip Dukes (viola) and Rachael Pankhurst (cor anglais) play with poetic warmth and technical address. The programme’s balance has a pleasing diversity; terse, windswept, ebullient, frisky, serious. Not the place to start for those coming fresh to the composer because it’s too heterogeneous a collection but definitely one for Alwyn collectors.

Andrew Achenbach
Gramophone, November 2008

Dedicated and shapely advocacy for these little-known Alwyn gems

Here’s yet another enticing helping of Alwyn courtesy of David Lloyd-Jones, Naxos and the William Alwyn Foundation (administered by the tireless Andrew Knowles). Of the seven works on this latest collection, the earliest, the Five Preludes from 1927, receives a first recording. Premiered by Sir Henry Wood at a Queen’s Hall Prom that year, these colourful and varied miniatures constitute an extremely likeable sequence, the lullaby of No 4 tapping a vein of wistful lyricism not far removed from that espoused by John Ireland. Wood was also due to conduct the first performance of the fizzing Overture to a Masque (1940) but the London Blitz put paid to that and the manuscript only came to light 50 years later, buried in the LSO’s archives.

The pensive Pastoral Fantasia (1939) for viola and strings was another work which gathered dust for over half a century—and that despite an auspicious debut entrusted to Watson Forbes and the BBC SO under Sir Adrian Boult. Philip Dukes makes the most of Alwyn’s grateful solo writing, while the RLPO’s principal cor anglais Rachael Pankhurst is on no less eloquent form in the dusky Autumn Legend from 1954 (with its haunting echoes of Debussy’s “Nuages” and Sibelius’s “The Swan of Tuonela”). Be it in the invigoratingly clean-cut dialogue of the 1943 Concerto grosso no 1 (inscribed to Alwyn’s friends and colleagues in the LSO, in which he played flute), imploring heartache of the Tragic Interlude (1936) or jaunty skip of the Suite of Scottish Dances (1946), Lloyd-Jones and the RLPO serve all this material handsomely. The sound has ample presence but is inclined to harden just a smidgeon whenever the decibels increase (string-tone, too, might be kinder). Alwynites needn’t hold back.

Barry Brenesal
Fanfare, November 2008

Lloyd-Jones is, as ever, admirable in his pursuit of clarity, though a bit more warmth would have been welcome.

If you’ve yet to sample Alwyn, this is an excellent place to start, and very inexpensively, too. © 2008 Fanfare Read complete review

Bob McQuiston
Classical Lost and Found, September 2008


Naxos now gives us some more delightful, rarely heard orchestral goodies by English composer William Alwyn (1905-1985). He wrote in every possible genre, including film music, and the seven short selections on this disc show what a master of orchestral color he was.

Overture to a Masque (1940) was literally a casualty of World War II because the heavy bombing of London prevented it from being premièred. It would be fifty years before it was discovered in the London Symphony Orchestra archives and given its first performance. It's in three spans consisting of bustling outer sections that surround a subdued, lovely pastoral inner one.

With the next selection Concerto Grosso No. 1 (there are three), which dates from 1943, we get a contemporary take on that old tried-and-true baroque form. In three movements, the first is somewhat humorous with boisterous outbursts from a variety of solo instruments along with the percussion section. A lazy adagio follows and then a spirited finale where the instrumental merrymakers from the first movement return to whoop it up.

Pastorale Fantasia (1939), scored for viola and strings, might easily have been entitled The Hawk Ascending. That's because it bears a pastoral resemblance to Vaughan Williams' Lark... (1914, revised 1920), but features a stringed instrument of greater weight than the violin. It's a gorgeous piece and welcome addition to the small body of music for viola and orchestra.

A world première recording is next with Five Preludes (1927), which was Alwyn's first orchestral work. It's worth getting this disc for these delightfully colorful miniatures alone. Highlights include the nonchalant first, Verdi-like third and Eastern-tinged fifth.

Inspired by a novel about the First World War (1914-18), Tragic Interlude (1936) is one of Alwyn's darkest, most moving pieces. Scored for two horns, timpani and strings, the horror of war is most effectively dramatized. Hearing this it’s easy to understand why his film scores are so effective.

Composed as a tribute to English poet and painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882), Autumn Legend (1954) is for English horn and strings. Prefaced by a quote from Rossetti's poem The Blessed Damozel, which inspired Debussy to write his cantata of the same name (1888), Alwyn's score is one of his most beautiful. It ranks with the finest contemporary pieces ever written for this rarely heard double-reed instrument and orchestra.

The CD concludes with a Suite of Scottish Dances (1946 and there are seven), which fans of Malcolm Arnold's several sets of British dances will find indispensable. Brilliantly orchestrated, this Highland hoedown will have you cutting a rug!

Listening to the spirited performances David Lloyd-Jones gets from the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra it's easy to understand why he's considered one of Britain's finest conductors of English music. What's more, it would appear that Alwyn is one of his specialties. Taking that into consideration along with the Naxos bill of fare, you can't go wrong with this release.

The recordings are good from the soundstage standpoint, but a bit of digital grain in the strings precludes giving this an audiophile demonstration rating. But don't let that stop you from enjoying these wonderful selections.

David Hurwitz, September 2008

For a composer no one much cares about and whose music seldom appears on concert programs, William Alwyn has been extremely well treated by record labels (specifically Lyrita, Chandos, and Naxos). Read full review at ClassicsToday

James Leonard, August 2008

Throughout, Alwyn the craftsman, Alwyn the tunesmith, and Alwyn the bon vivant are equally evident in the skill, beauty, and energy of the music. Coming off their brilliant series of recordings of Alwyn’s large-scale symphonies, Lloyd-Jones and the Liverpudlian musicians are clearly having fun here with the lighter Alwyn, and their performances sparkle and shine with enthusiasm. As in the previous releases in their Alwyn series, Naxos’ digital sound is clean, colorful, and direct.

Rob Barnett
MusicWeb International, July 2008

At various times Alwyn's champions among the record labels have been Lyrita and then Chandos and now Naxos. Each has been financially supported in their projects by Alwyn or by the Alwyn Foundation. Pleasingly all three remain represented in the catalogue. If we ignore the Dutton (1, 2, Barbirolli; composer) and Somm (3, Beecham) historical one-offs you can now choose from three cycles of the complete symphonies: Alwyn/LPO (Lyrita), Hickox/LPO (Chandos); David Lloyd-Jones/RLPO (Naxos). It's remarkable when you take breath and think about it. Each successive cycle has delved just that little bit deeper into recording the Alwyn worklist. Naxos have offered up more works than either of the other two.

The romping Overture to a Masque was written in London for an intended Prom premiere but no such luck. The war intervened and the work fell from view only to be rediscovered in recent years in the archives of the LSO. It has the swagger of Reznicek's Donna Diana and Smetana's Bartered Bride. The ending is delivered with a burred brass burble of the type we also hear at the very end of Moeran's own Overture to a Masque which was written five years after the Alwyn. It is a lovely overture with some attractively memorable flute flurries within the first two minutes. The Concerto Grosso No. 1 is in three movements in a decidedly neo-classical style à la Pulcinella though by no means as desiccated. It was written while Alwyn was serving as air raid warden in the London Blitz. The second movement makes less of a surrender to the neo-classical world with pensive solos for viola and cor anglais over rocking strings. The finale regains the neo-classical pepper and spice of the first movement. The Five Preludes were Alwyn's first musical triumph. Again they were written in London and this time they were premiered by Sir Henry Wood. These are miniatures ranging between 0:45 and 1:53 and encompassing moods from tranquil melancholy through to ruthlessly joyous clashing chinoiserie. The poignant little sketches rise in the little Allegro Molto to an explosive and abrupt display.

The Pastoral Fantasia is for viola and strings. It inhabits the world of The Lark Ascending and other hymns to the surface vistas and the spiritual depths of the British countryside. The Tragic Interlude starts with the suggestion of grandiloquent torment. Tragedy is an unmistakable and sustained aspect of this work which is linked with Richard Aldington's novel of the Great War, 'Death of a Hero' (1929). It falters forward as if staggering wounded and hopeless. The tolling underpinning to much of the writing strongly recalls the tragic undertow of Alwyn’s 1970s Symphony No. 5, Hydriotaphia - for me one of Alwyn's masterworks alongside Lyra Angelica. Autumn Legend is for cor anglais and orchestra so it might immediately suggest a link with the Swan of Tuonela; the music bears this out. The piece has a strong atmosphere and if Sibelius is one influence then another is the rhapsodic bleakness of 1920s and 1930s Frank Bridge. Bridge's There is a willow looks out on a dreamscape inspired by Alwyn’s high regard for the Pre-Raphaelite painters and especially for D.G. Rossetti. The Suite of Scottish Dances is light fare with many antique touches, a dab of Ronald Binge, a splash of romantic mystery, a whiff of heather, a hiccup of whiskey, a Mozartean gurgle and the stomp of the hornpipe.

The notes are in the safe hands of Andrew Peter Knowles who works unstintingly for the sustained Alwyn revival.

Alwyn's progress like that of fellow film music composer Rawsthorne has been fuelled at least in part by film music royalties. I hope that the Naxos project will stretch to recording Alwyn’s epic cantata to words by William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Conspicuous by its absence has been Alwyn’s Violin Concerto. Is this on the Alwyn-Naxos hit-list, I wonder?

While all but the Preludes are available elsewhere from Lyrita or Chandos this collection is unique in offering a fine selection of short but far from lightweight Alwyn pieces.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, July 2008

This series of recordings of music by William Alwyn is receiving the universal critical acclaim that it so richly deserves. Having given us his symphonies, Naxos is now energetically engaged in recording previously ignored music, this disc containing his seldom heard Suite of Scottish Dances and the world premiere recording of his Five Preludes. Born in 1905, William Alwyn led a double life writing commercially popular music for films, with 60 scores composed in this genre helping to fund time spent as a ‘serious’ composer. Neither fitting into the Vaughan Williams domain of British pastoral music, nor the new world seen by William Walton, he fell foul of the music establishment and found orchestral managers ignoring his work despite good audience response when it was programmed. This was typical of the British music scene at the time, and only now can we appreciate that he was a major composer of the 20th century. The Five Preludes, completed when Alwyn was twenty-two, was premiered at a London Proms Concert conducted by Sir Henry Wood, giving the young man some early national acclaim. Much of the remainder of the disc comes from the 1940s, opening with the Overture to a Masque, also intended for a Proms concert that was cancelled by the war. Three years later, the first Concerto Grosso was written to a BBC commission, its scoring for chamber orchestra creating a mix of gentle geniality and pungent colours. Maybe Alwyn knew the world would never be the same again when writing the nostalgic musings of the Pastoral Fantasia for viola and orchestra, its innate beauty closing in peace. Richard Aldington’s novel, Death of a Hero, a response to the First World War, provided the catalyst for the dramatic and highly charged Tragic Interlude from 1936. There is a return to a world of nostalgia in the yearning elegance of Autumn Legend, a short rhapsody for cor anglais and strings. Not as riotous as Malcolm Arnold’s Scottish Dances, Alwyn took a more lilting view of folk melody for his work of that name.Philip Dukes is the distinguished viola soloist, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic in fine form for conductor, David Lloyd-Jones, as he continues to offer bench-mark performances in outstanding sound.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group