In Appreciation – David Lloyd-Jones

by Ben Hogwood

This week we have learned the sad news of the death of conductor David Lloyd-Jones, at the age of 87. David was instrumental in founding Opera North in 1978, and there is a heartfelt tribute on their website in his honour.

While Lloyd-Jones was a highly respected opera conductor, I have chosen to focus on his many and pioneering recordings of English music by way of a tribute. These include extensive surveys of the orchestral music of Stanford (including a symphony cycle), Alwyn, Bliss, Rawsthorne and Arnold Bax, including another survey of his symphonies, and Holst – with an important disc of his orchestral music released in 1998. Here is just a hint of his discography for Naxos, with highlights from some very impressive recordings:

On record – Aurora Trio: Crépuscule (EM Records)

crepuscule

Alwyn Two Folk Tunes (1936). Crépuscule (1955). Naïades (1971)
Bax Elegiac Trio (1916)
Lewis Divertimento (1982)
Lipkin Trio (1982)
Patterson Canonic Lullaby (2016)
Rawsthorne Suite (1968)

Aurora Trio [Emma Halnan (flute), Jordan Sian (viola), Heather Wrighton (harp)]

EM Records EMRCD069 [76’52”]

Producer Tom Hammond
Engineer John Croft

Recorded 15-16 February, 13 August 2020 at St John the Evangelist, Oxford

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

The Aurora Trio makes its debut for EM Records in a collection of British music featuring flute, viola and harp that spans exactly 100 years and encompasses a variety of approaches with regards to the combining of these distinct yet undeniably complementary instruments.

What’s the music like?

If not the most elaborate of his numerous works for ensemble, Arnold Bax’s Elegiac Trio is among his most affecting as an in-memoriam for those friends who died in the course of the Easter Uprising in Ireland. Although the overall mood rarely moves far from that implied by the title, the undulating emotion filtering through the textural ‘weave’ proves as subtle as it is elusive. Scored for just flute and harp, William Alwyn’s Naïades unfolds on a larger scale and inhabits a wider range of expression as it evokes both the eponymous spirits of antiquity and the environs of the Suffolk village of Blythburgh where it was written, while also being    a ‘fantasy sonata’ whose instruments interact with more than a little improvisatory freedom.

By contrast, the Suite that Alan Rawsthorne wrote for the Robles Trio is typical of his later music in its harmonic astringency and oblique while never abstruse tonal follow-through. A highly personal use of serial elements underpins the elegant opening Andantino as surely as it does a graceful, intermezzo-like Allegretto then the more demonstrative Allegro vigoroso. All these other works are here receiving their first recordings. Alwyn’s Crépuscule for harp offers a foretaste of that masterly concerto Lyra Angelica in its ethereal poise, whereas his Two Folk Tunes emerges as an appealingly contrasted duo – viola and harp as ruminatively combined in Meditation as they are animatedly juxtaposed in Who’ll buy my besoms?

The highlight is undoubtedly the Trio by Malcolm Lipkin, a composer yet to receive his due and who, as the present work affirms, was unafraid to elide between tradition and innovation with strikingly personal results – whether in the terse emotional contrasts of its Variations, tense and increasingly soulful inwardness of its Intermezzo or purposeful onward progress of a Finale whose impetus subsides towards the pensively fatalistic coda. Canonic Lullaby has Paul Patterson bring flute and harp into limpid accord, while Paul Lewis’s Divertimento puts all three instruments through their paces in a lively March, before embracing them in the lyrical Love Song then cordially sending them on their way in the nonchalant Waltz.

Does it all work?

Yes, given the relative stylistic range of the music featured and, moreover the quality of these performances. Care has evidently been taken to assemble the eight works into a cohesive and satisfying sequence such as this ensemble might tackle at one of its recitals, and which flows well as an overall programme. The playing leaves nothing to be desired in terms of accuracy, while the relative personality of each composer cannot be gainsaid. Ideally the release would encourage composers from the middle and younger generations to write for this combination.

Is it recommended?

Indeed. The recording is excellent, with the frequently awkward balance between instruments expertly judged, and there are detailed annotations on both the works and their composers. It all adds up to a worthwhile release which deserves to be followed up, hopefully on this label.

Listen & Buy

You can discover more about this release and listen to clips at the EM Records website, where you can also purchase the recording. For more on the Aurora trio, you can visit their website

In concert – Werther Ensemble: British Piano Quartets at St John’s, Smith Square

werther-ensemble

Werther Ensemble (Jamie Campbell (violin), Nicholas Bootiman (viola), James Barralet (cello), Simon Callaghan (piano); St John’s Smith Square, London, 21 February 2016

Bliss Piano Quartet in A minor, Op. 5 (1915)

Howells Piano Quartet in A minor, Op. 21 (1916)

Alwyn Rhapsody (1938)

Walton Piano Quartet in D minor (1919)

Written by Richard Whitehouse

The Werther Ensemble has proved itself adept across the broad spectrum of nineteenth- and twentieth-century chamber music, and this enterprising programme demonstrated the range of response by British composers to that most often overlooked of media – the piano quartet.

Admittedly it got off to a lukewarm start with the Piano Quartet by Sir Arthur Bliss. True the first movement began impressively, but its ensuing contrast of romantic ardour with a gauche folksiness the composer was soon to jettison never quite worked, then the central Intermezzo was simply too short and lightweight to hold a balance between its predecessor and the lively finale with its dutiful recall of the work’s opening theme towards the close. Understandable if Bliss should have left this piece to its fate as he headed off in a radically different direction.

A year younger, Howells completed his own Piano Quartet at much the same time, yet here there could be no doubt as to its consistency of musical idiom with those other chamber works from this composer’s early maturity. The opening movement unfolded with no mean deliberation, its main ideas emerging gradually and only rarely asserting themselves against a constantly shifting harmonic context.

For all that it conveyed a purposeful momentum as the Werther was mindful to contrast with the lingering eloquence of the central Lento – building in stages towards a soulful climax tinged with regret. After this, the finale may have surprised with its rhythmic incisiveness and often headlong progress, yet the affirmative outcome was audibly in keeping with the underlying trajectory of this ‘dark horse’ among works of its kind.

After the interval, a welcome revival for the Rhapsody as was the first of Alwyn’s two contributions to the medium. This packed a wealth of incident into its modest timespan of a little more than nine minutes. The tensile initial idea proved dominant while being flexible enough to accommodate understated material in a loosely palindromic structure that brought a satisfying completion. The Werther was more than equal to the technical challenges of a piece as reminded one some of Alwyn’s most distinctive music is to be found in his chamber output.

The programme concluded with the Piano Quartet by which the teenage Walton gave notice of his protean talent. Although revised in the 1920s and again in the 1950s, this is very much a young composer’s music – one steeped in recent scores by Ravel and Stravinsky that are put to productive use over its thematically interrelated four movements.

The Werther duly sustained its half-hour span with conviction to spare – whether in its trenchant response to the bracing scherzo, the ambivalent shadows that inform the Andante’s fitful progress, or the ingenuity by which the opening movement links hands with the finale in an impressive show of technical resource and cumulative energy – especially during the latter’s heady central passage, a sure pointer towards the composer’s musical preoccupations a decade and more hence.

An impressive conclusion, then, to a well-conceived and finely executed recital, in spite of the occasional intonational flaw. Apparently this had to be postponed from last year because of illness among the ensemble – in which case, its rescheduling was justified in every respect.