A disc of concerto-like
works from William Alwyn’s pen is to be welcomed,
especially when the harpist in Lyra angelica
is the supremely-talented Osian Ellis. First,
though, the Concerto Grosso No. 2 in
G of 1948 (the first was written in 1943).
The work is dedicated to the conductor Muir
Matheson and received its première
under Sir Malcolm Sargent in May 1950. There
is a solo string quartet, although with the
exception of the first violin, the parts are
not overly exposed. There is certainly something
of the air of Handel about the first movement,
but filtered through twentieth-century Britain.
If the brimming-over energy of the finale
is enervating, it is the second movement (Adagio
ed espressivo) that forms the work’s highlight.
It is delicate in the extreme, the LPO realising
the textures to perfection.
Autumn Legend is inspired
by a poem by the pre-Raphaelite painter Dante
Gabriel Rossetti (a painter apparently extolled
by Delacroix: in fact the score is headed
by a quotation from Rossetti’s poem, The
Blessed Damozel **). Alwyn claims the
Autumn Legend to be a free improvisation
on his chosen text. The kinship with Sibelius’s
Swan of Tuonela suggested by Lewis
Foreman is a telling one. Atmospheric this
work certainly is, and it does manage to sustain
its twelve-minute duration. Geoffrey Brown’s
playing of the solo part is beautifully moulded,
bringing out fully the melancholy contained
Finally, Alwyn’s Concerto
for Harp and String Orchestra, called Lyra
Angelica. Dating from the same period
as the Autumn Legend was similarly
inspired by poetry, this time that of the
17th-century English metaphysicals.
Quotations from Giles Fletcher’s epic Christ’s
Victorie and Triumph (1610) head each
of the four movements (two Adagios, a Moderato
and an Allegro jubiloso-Andante con moto).
The première was given by the legendary
Sidonie Goossens with the BBC Symphony Orchestra,
again with Sir Malcolm Sargent at the helm,
on the opening Promenade concert of the 1954
There is a predominantly
meditational aspect to Lyra Angelica
that makes it appealing indeed. The delicacy
of the second movement is most affecting,
the intimacy very moving. The Moderato provides
contrast with more determined lines from the
strings, the finale with its swirls of harp-inflected
colour. Osian Ellis is the perfect soloist,
the recording of the strings everything one
has come to expect from this company. Of all
the Alwyn discs from Lyrita, this is surely
the most special.
collected paintings by Rossetti in the 50's
when the painter was deeply unfashionable
and inexpensive. He was very much responsible
for re-establishing his reputation. Try buying
a Rossetti now! - Len M.