Symphony no.12 (1985)a
Symphony no.13 ‘Symphony in memory of John Fussell (1992)b
Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life (1987)c
Maldwyn Davies (tenor) (c), BBC Welsh Chorus (c, BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra (a) and (c) / Bryden Thomson (a), Sir Charles Groves (c); BBC National Orchestra of Wales (b) / Tecwyn Evans (b)
Lyrita SRCD391 [65’35”] English text included
Dates: (a) – BBC studio recording 22 March 1990; (b) – BBC concert broadcast 23 January 2017; (c) – BBC broadcast from Swansea Festival, 10 October 1987
Reviewed by Richard Whitehouse
What’s the story?
Lyrita completes its coverage of symphonies by Daniel Jones (1912-1993) with this coupling of his final two such works, alongside the premiere performance of his last cantata, heard in readings by artists who identified closely with the composer’s music throughout their careers.
What’s the music like?
It was only midway through this cycle that Jones realized he could start a symphony on each note of the chromatic scale. The Twelfth Symphony thus completes this process – its overall structure being among the composer’s most concentrated. At barely six minutes, the opening movement seems relatively expansive with the tensile sonata-form of its Agitato bookended by affecting Tranquillo passages. There follows a rumbustious Giocoso the more potent for its brevity, a Serioso such as might almost be thought a ‘song without words’ with its lyrical understatement, then a Risoluto which extends just long enough to round off the whole work by effecting an oblique return to its initial bars. Four decades on from his first so-designated piece and Jones can be said to have brought his symphonic cycle decisively to its conclusion.
That, however, was by no means the end of the story: the death, in 1990, of Jones’s friend the organist and administrator John Fussell prompted a Thirteenth Symphony as proved to be his last completed work (an Eighth String Quartet being realized by Malcolm Binney and the late Giles Easterbrook). Relatively expansive next to those later such pieces, with some especially imaginative writing for percussion (allocated to no less than seven players), this unfolds from the restless and eventful Solenne – at almost 10 minutes a worthy ‘memorial’ in itself – via an animated and nonchalant Capriccioso then a Lento whose plangent woodwind writing makes it among his most searching slow movements, to a finale whose Agitato-Tranquillo trajectory is pursued twice as this intensifies inexorably towards an ending as powerful as it is eloquent.
Coming between the two symphonies, Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life is the last of Jones’s four cantatas and again has recourse to metaphysical poetry – in this instance George Herbert, the seven short movements being arranged as to chart the spiritual progress of the author (by extension, that of John Aeron-Thomas – founder-member of the Swansea Festival, for whom this is a memorial). Intersected with a fervent orchestral Fantasia, the six choruses traverse contrasted and even conflicted emotions before attaining an unforced affirmation at the close.
Does it all work?
It does. As has previously been noted in these reviews, Jones was not a composer who sought or attracted easy plaudits – opting for an idiom whose methodical evolution is consistent and absorbing. The performances reflect this thinking, Sir Charles Groves and Bryden Thomson both focussed on capturing the essence of works whose integrity is abetted by deftness and no little humour. Tecwyn Evans’s conducting suggests he, too, is primarily concerned with projecting the spirit of this music. Nor does Maldwyn Davies’s contribution leave anything to be desired.
Is it recommended?
Indeed. The broadcasts have been expertly remastered (No. 13 understandably sounding the best), with Paul Conway contributing detailed and insightful annotations. Job done by Lyrita, which will now hopefully complete a similar intégrale of the symphonies by Alun Hoddinott.