Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Alun Hoddinott, William Mathias & Daniel Jones: Welsh Dances on Lyrita

I recently had the pleasure of reviewing this fine new release from Lyrita. It is a significant CD that seems to me to tidy up a lot of loose ends. I do not mean to imply that somehow these works are scraps or inconsequential. A brief look at the CD catalogue shows that there are a fair number of major works by Mathias, Hoddinott and Jones. These are by and large from the Lyrita and Nimbus stables and more often than not represent a serious diet of concertos, quartets, sonatas and symphonies. However there is a definite shortfall in the lighter and more approachable works from these three composers. Lyrita have presented here a series of Welsh or Celtic inspired dances alongside an Overture and Concerto Grosso by three of the most important composers from the Principality. Each and every one of these works is worthy of their composer and all deserve to be represented in the CD catalogues. 
I first came across Alun Hoddinott through an old Golden Guinea LP (GSGC1410 7) that featured his Clarinet Sonata and String Quartet No.1. It was coupled with two major chamber pieces by Alan Rawsthorne. I guess that it was a strange introduction to Hoddinott's music but it did introduce me to a composer who seemed to cross the boundary between avant-garde and traditional musical expression. It was not until a couple of years later, when on holiday in Llandudno that I found the Pye BBC (RRC 22) record of music from Wales that included a number of the works that are performed on this present CD. These included the second suite of the Welsh Dances, the Concerto Grosso, the Investiture Dances and Mathias's Celtic Dances and his Sinfonietta. It was a fine introduction to a really attractive series of 'modern' yet approachable, works: they have been unavailable to listeners for far too long.

All the works impressed me but perhaps the only piece I had not heard before was the Dance Fantasy by Daniel Jones.
Jones is a grossly underestimated composer. He is only represented by two CDs dedicated to his magnificent symphonies on Lyrita, and a couple of pieces here and there. The present Dance Fantasy is a welcome addition to the short list of works available. The piece was composed in August 1976 and was commissioned for that year's North Wales Music Festival and was first performed at St. Asaph by the BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Norman del Mar. It is a powerful but ultimately jolly work that the composer has insisted could be danced to throughout. Geraint Lewis writing Jones' obituary in the Independent in 1993 suggests that 'The Welsh sense of rhetoric is never far away from Jones's music and his most frequently performed orchestral piece - the popular Dance Fantasy (1976) is imbued with a stirringly Celtic sense of heraldic display'. Just how much of Wales is here I am not sure -but certainly there are nods to the Appalachian Spring and perhaps even to Spain. Paul Conway writing in the liner notes that it is 'Daniel Jones' most popular and frequently performed work.' I guess that he is not really a 'household name' but let us hope that this present CD will encourage more listeners to explore his music.


Alun HODDINOTT (1929-2008) Four Welsh Dances Op.15 (1958)* Overture, Jack Straw Op. 35 (1964)** Concerto Grosso No. 2 Op.46 (1966)*** Investiture Dances Op. 66 (1969)*** Welsh Dances, Set 2 Op.64 (1969)*** William MATHIAS (1934-1992) Celtic Dances Op.60 (1972)*** Daniel JONES (1912-1993) Dance Fantasy (1976)**** Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Charles Groves* Philharmonia Orchestra/Charles Groves** National Youth Orchestra of Wales/Arthur Davison*** BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra/Bryden Thomson**** LYRITA SRCD.334

Please read my full review on MusicWeb International

1 comment:

Mark Williams said...

Hi as a Welshman from Daniel Jones' home city of Swansea I wanted to write and say that I totally agree with you that he is unjustly ignored and overlooked as a composer and poorly represented in the cd catalogue.