William Alwyn falls somewhere between the English pastoral tradition epitomized by Vaughan Williams and, for the lack of a better way of putting it, English modernism in the vein of Walton. His wife, Mary, described him as a "modern romantic" but added that "his romanticism does not, however, result in rhapsodic shapelessness." While some of his work is absolutely gorgeous - indeed, he was above all motivated by the pursuit of beauty - other things, particularly the symphonies, are not so easily embraceable as his ideal of "beauty" might lead the listener to believe. The Fourth Symphony (1959) is a case in point: at first blush, it strikes the listener as serious, perhaps even cerebral, especially the introductory first movement which doesn't have much melodic content to carry it along. The middle and final movements are another matter. Here Alwyn invokes Holst's "Mars" and sounds Mahlerian in places, and his extensive experience writing for films serves him well as he moves from one...
This disc, superbly recorded in 1992, offers a most attractive over-view of Alwyn's music. Alwyn's five symphonies are a major symphonic statement and written with all the concise mastery of thought and orchestration that one would expect of a composer responsible for so many film scores of repute.
Alwyn described himself as a modern romantic and remained true to this description throughout his life. Consequently his lyrically powerful style of writing fell out of favour with those in the BBC and other influential bodies concerned with promoting more avant garde music. That day has now passed and there is a resurgence of interest in the post Elgarian English composers, of which, Alwyn is possibly the brightest star.
The fourth symphony from 1959 is a major work of some 39 minutes duration and conceived in three movements of varying tempi. His music is unerringly constructed to produce climaxes of great power while still being lyrical. This is not the same as...
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