On record – William Wordsworth: Orchestral Music Vol.2 (Toccata Classics)

Kamila Bydlowska (violin), Arta Arnicane (piano), Liepāja Symphony Orchestra / John Gibbons

William Wordsworth
Piano Concerto in D minor Op.28 (1946)
Three Pastoral Sketches Op.10 (1937)
Violin Concerto in A major Op.60 (1955)

Toccata Classics TOCC0526 [79’41”]

Producer Normands Slava
Engineer Jānis Straume

Recorded 21-25 January 2019, Amber Concert Hall, Liepāja, Latvia

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Toccata Classics issues a further volume of orchestral music by William Wordsworth (1908-88), featuring two highly contrasted concertos alongside the composer’s first acknowledged work for the medium, in persuasive readings by the Liepāja Symphony Orchestra with John Gibbons.

What’s the music like?

Composed in the aftermath of the Second World War, Wordsworth’s Piano Concerto unfolds in five continuous sections. At its centre is an Adagio, its pathos informed by an ominousness that becomes far more confrontational in the two Allegros either side, during which interplay between soloist and orchestra is also at its most combative. Framing these, in turn, is a brief introduction whose understatement belies a motivic resource that is brought full circle in the coda with its mingling of fatalism and defiance. Premiered by John Hunt while dedicated to Clifford Curzon (did he ever actually play it?), this is a compact and effective piece such as ought to have garnered further performances and certainly warrants revival in a live context. Hopefully, this adept as well as committed recording will bring that possibility a little closer.

As should that of the Violin Concerto which, by contrast, ranks among Wordsworth’s most expansive orchestral works. The opening Moderato, alone playing for 15 minutes, is notable for its thematic concentration – its lyrical then contrapuntal ideas being manifestations of the same theme which is duly intensified in the development, though an overly discursive reprise makes the terse coda feel almost too perfunctory. No such doubts over a central Adagio that finds the composer at his most eloquent and builds to a close as affecting as it is inevitable. Following without pause, the final Allegro is essentially a series of variations on its spirited initial theme – replete with imaginative use of percussion and exuding an energy as carries over to the imposing cadenza then a coda whose affirmation Wordsworth seldom equalled.

Placed between these two concertos, the Three Pastoral Sketches might seem lightweight by comparison. In fact, these evocations merge into a purposeful unity with ample indications of the symphonist Wordsworth was soon to become as they proceed from the ruminative poise of Sundown, via the ethereal undulations of Lonely Tarn (Holst and Moeran brought into unlikely accord), then on to the cumulative power of Seascape with its sense of fulfilment just beyond reach. This ranks high among orchestral debuts from Wordsworth’s generation.

Does it all work?

In almost all respects. Special credit to the two soloists, who surely cannot have encountered this music before these sessions but whose dedication and insight can hardly be doubted. Arta Arnicane has all the impetus and incisiveness necessary for the Piano Concerto, while Kamila Bydlowska evinces burnished warmth and a caressing tone ideal for the lyrical expanse of the Violin Concerto. John Gibbons again secures playing of commitment from his Liepāja forces, their lacking the last degree of tension in portions of the concertos being just a minor quibble.

Is it recommended?

Indeed. As with the previous volume, Wordsworth’s music is a ‘slow-burn’ as rewards those who take time to make its acquaintance. Finely recorded and annotated, this can be cordially recommended in anticipation of those numerous works still to be encountered in this series.

Read, listen and Buy

You can read Richard’s review of the first volume in the Wordsworth series on Arcana

You can listen to clips and purchase this disc from the Toccata Classics website

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