Thursday, 9 October 2008

Geoffrey Bush: Symphony No.2 – The Guildford – a late anniversary!


I did not have my ‘blog’ at the end of 2007- however if I had I would have ‘noticed’ the half-century of one of the forgotten symphonies in the English music repertoire. Fortunately Lyrita have issued this work along with the Overture Yorick, the Music for Orchestra and the First Symphony on SRCD.252. So it is available for all to hear and to enjoy!
So approaching the 51st anniversary of its first performance…please read on!
The Second Symphony – The Guildford was commissioned as a part of the 700th anniversary of the granting of a Royal Charter to the city of Guildford. It was first performed in November 1957 by the Guildford Municipal Orchestra with the composer on the rostrum. I was unable to find any contemporary reviews of this work so I am not sure what the audience and the pundits made of it. However it did not regularly appear at symphonic concerts over the years and was not broadcast until the late nineteen-eighties.
The work is ‘officially’ in one continuous movement yet there are clearly four defined sections. The construction of the piece is more complex than that of the First Symphony although it does not really stress our musical appreciation. Bush has stated that this is really a ‘festive’ work – which should be listened to in that spirit. He is concerned that perhaps too much effort will be put into analysing the structure and the genesis of this piece rather than just simply enjoying it. He suggests that the listener gets ‘caught up in the prevailing atmosphere of jubilation.’

The work does not really require analysis – but a few words about each section will not be amiss. The Symphony opens with a kind of chorale theme for the various department of the orchestra. However it soon turns into a fanfare suggesting the Grand Old Duke of York or some other important person is about to arrive- although it may be a bit jazzy for some VIP’s taste. Soon the music evolves into an exciting allegro that contrasts two excellent tunes or perhaps allows them to enter into a dialogue with each other.
The ‘slow movement’ is quite definitely the heart of the work. Now I am not suggesting that there is an incipient ‘pastoralism’ in this work, but I do feel that this music evokes something of the countryside around Guildford- having spent a little time exploring the glorious Surrey Hills. But even this reflective music is interrupted by dramatic outbursts. So perhaps there is a little problem of balance in this movement? However, there are some lovely moments in this music

I am not quite sure what to make of the ‘scherzo.’ It is quite obviously a cheerful and exuberant movement with lots of ‘fun’ instrumentation, especially for woodwind. Yet somehow I am not convinced by it. Perhaps it just a little too light hearted, without pretending to be ‘light music?’
The composer describes the last movement as being a recapitulation of material from the first. Yet it seems to me that there is more energy and perhaps even more consistency of purpose in these last pages than in the rest of the Symphony. This is great stuff.

So in balance it is is an enjoyable essay but one that leads me to worry a little about the stylistic balance – yet as Geoffrey Bush insists, and I paraphrase, we need to sit back and enjoy.

With thanks to MusicWeb International

2 comments:

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