On record – William Wordsworth: Orchestral Music Vol.4 (Toccata Classics)


Liepāja Symphony Orchestra / John Gibbons

William Wordsworth
Jubilation Op.78 (1965)
A Spring Festival Overture Op.90 (1970)
Confluence Op.100 (1976)
Symphony No. 7, Op. 107, ‘Cosmos’ (1980)

Toccata Classics TOCC0618 [59’21”]

Producer Normands Slāva
Engineer Jānis Straume

Recorded 4-5 February and 16-18 June 2021, Amber Concert Hall, Liepāja, Latvia

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Toccata Classics continues its survey of William Wordsworth’s orchestral music with a fourth volume featuring the composer’s Seventh Symphony, alongside three other pieces that reflect his increasing concentration and refinement of thought during those latter decades of his life.

What’s the music like?

If the Fifth Symphony and Cello Concerto (recorded on TOCC0600) represent a highpoint of Wordsworth’s orchestral output, the works that follow are only relatively less ambitious and equally personal. The four heard here appeared at five-year intervals. Subtitled ‘A Festivity for Orchestra’, Jubilation is akin to a ‘concerto for orchestra’ in its intensive while unshowy pursual of those possibilities inherent in its opening fanfare-like idea; one which returns near the close of this engaging piece to provide a rounding-off of good-humoured decisiveness.

A Spring Festival Overture is even more self-contained in its demeanour, though the gradual emergence of activity out of the sombre introduction is a telling metaphor for the coming of this season and the musical discourse attracts attention purely through its dexterity of thought.

Had Confluence been Wordsworth’s ‘sixth symphony’, no-one could surely have doubted its rightness given this music’s motivic density and textural subtlety. As it is, these ‘Symphonic Variations’ are a notable staging-post in the composer’s odyssey towards ever more distilled expression – the variations proceeding as distinct yet interrelated episodes where most of the instruments have a soloistic spot. The penultimate section, with its allusion to Elgar’s Violin Concerto, finds Words worth at his most felicitous and the final build-up at his most visceral.

Scored for comparably sizable forces, the Seventh Symphony continues a process of formal elaboration across a single, unbroken span – its seven sections less a series of variations as a succession of paraphrases on ideas which are nothing if not rarefied. Appropriate, then, that its ‘Cosmos’ subtitle should embody a lifelong fascination with the universe – whether in its astronomical or spiritual dimensions. Inclusion of a prepared tape suggests something more radical than is the case – pre-recorded material limited to two slowly repeating string chords that recur at crucial formal and expressive junctures to channel underlying momentum over   a course inevitable as to its ultimate destination. Paul Conway’s booklet note implies this as being Wordsworth’s most original orchestral work and the present writer would not disagree.

Does it all work?

Yes, though this is not the place to start for anyone new to Wordsworth’s music (the previous instalment with the Fifth Symphony makes for an ideal point of entry). Playing the works in chronological order (rather than Opp. 90, 107, 78 and 100 as on this disc) reveals ever greater focus on motivic essentials allied to an understated while often questing harmonic sense that may have reflected their composer’s immersion in the Scottish East Highlands or the wisdom accrued with age, yet the experience feels never less than absorbing and sometimes profound.

Is it recommended?

Indeed. The playing of the Liepāja Symphony Orchestra is comparable to that on earlier volumes, while John Gibbons directs with his customary ear for detail and care for balance. Hopefully a fifth volume, perhaps including the hitherto unheard Sixth Symphony, will not be long in coming.

Read, listen and Buy

You can read Richard’s review of the first three volumes in the Wordsworth series on Arcana, clicking here for the first volume, here for the second and here for the third

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 John Gibbons and the Liepāja Symphony Orchestra respectively.

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