Florian Arnicans (cello), Liepāja Symphony Orchestra / John Gibbons
Symphony no.5 in A minor Op.68 (1957-60)
Cello Concerto Op.73 (1963)
Toccata Classics TOCC0600 [65’55”]
Producer Normands Slāva
Engineer Jānis Straume
Recorded 1-5 February 2021, Amber Concert Hall, Liepāja, Latvia
Written by Richard Whitehouse
What’s the story?
Toccata Classics continues its series devoted to the orchestral works of William Wordsworth (1908-88) in a coupling of two pieces from around the turn of the 1960s, when the changing priorities of the British musical establishment meant such music was increasingly overlooked.
What’s the music like?
Although it had to wait over a decade before its first performance in January 1975 (perhaps as it was written with no specific soloist in mind), the Cello Concerto is unerringly conceived for this instrument – not least the substantial opening Allegretto whose brusque initial orchestral tutti hardly prepares one for the wide-ranging if never discursive dialogue that follows. There is a lengthy and developmental cadenza before a reprise which continues the evolution of its pithy ideas prior to the ruminative close. Designated Nocturne, the ensuing Lento is among Wordsworth’s most atmospheric slow movements; the cello’s eloquent main theme provides a focal point thrown into relief by woodwind via a series of haunting asides, without seriously undermining the repose made tangible in the evocative closing bars. The final Allegro vivace is centred on a lively, even nonchalant refrain whose trenchant rhythmic profile comes to the fore in a fugal section whose accrued energy subsides into a musing solo passage – from out of which the earlier repartee continues through to a decisive while not a little sardonic coda.
Although premiered in 1962 and broadcast thereafter, the Fifth Symphony only now receives its first commercial recording – a pity, given this is arguably Wordsworth’s most emotionally involving such piece. A calmly undulating ‘motto’ at the outset is heard in three guises over each of three movements. Thematic in the initial Andante maestoso, its supplicatory writing for strings complemented with plangent woodwind in a discourse where the slowly emergent ‘landscape’ may well be that of the mind – not least its quietly ecstatic writing for solo violin toward the close. Rhythmic in the central Allegro, a scherzo whose spectral writing for tuned percussion and upper woodwind has more than a little malevolence – even with a whimsical trio to provide contrast. Its recalcitrant ebbing away makes the finale’s slow introduction the more striking, strings building to an expressive apex from where the Allegro begins. Here the harmonic aspect of the ‘motto’ is dominant, episodes of tensile fugato alternating with gentler asides on the way to an apotheosis whose affirmation is necessarily tempered by experience.
Does it all work?
Yes, in that both pieces find Wordsworth’s often elusive tonal language at its most searching. Florian Arnicans cannot have known the Cello Concerto before these sessions, but he captures its brooding understatement with undoubted assurance and thereby reinforces its claim to be the deepest and most substantial of this composer’s concertante works. The Fifth Symphony can be heard in a 1979 studio reading by Stewart Robson with the BBC Scottish Symphony (Lyrita), but Gibbons reveals more fully why it is likely the highlight of Wordsworth’s cycle.
Is it recommended?
Indeed. The playing of the Liepāja Symphony Orchestra is on a par with that of the previous two instalments in this series, and Paul Conway contributes his usual thorough booklet notes. Good to hear the fourth volume in this series, featuring the Seventh Symphony, is imminent.
Read, listen and Buy
You can listen to clips and purchase this disc from the Toccata Classics website. For more information on WIlliam Wordsworth, click here. For more on the performers on this recordings, click on the names for websites devoted to Florian Arnicans, John Gibbons and the Liepāja Symphony Orchestra respectively.