Sunday, 31 October 2010

Alan Rawsthorne: Overture Hallé for orchestra

I recently came across a reference to Alan Rawsthorne’s Overture Hallé. I was sure that I have never heard this piece in the concert hall or on a recording. Certainly there is no reference to this overture in the Gramophone archive. Even a ‘Google’ search only locates the fact that the score is available for hire from Oxford University Press.
I turned to the index of works in John McCabe masterly study of the composer. In the chronology of section he notes that Overture Hallé was first performed in Manchester, February 16, 1958, at the Free Trade Hall. John Barbirolli conducted the Hallé Orchestra at this event.
John McCabe does not rate the work highly. He regards it as ‘a curiously unsatisfying work, with a lengthy slow section after two false starts.’ He further considers that much of the content of this Overture consists of ‘undistinguished re-workings of Rawsthorne style rather than freshly minted tunes.’ He feels that the treatment of the themes is fairly pedestrian.
It was composed for the 1958 centenary of the Halle Orchestra. The original title of the work was apparently ‘Prelude for Orchestra’. However Barbirolli objected to this title. John McCabe quotes the composer as writing, ‘Well, well, I would settle for ‘Overture Halle’. I only thought my piece is a little less formal than the word ‘Overture’ now suggests.’ Furthermore, Rawsthorne felt that the title will be confused with the town in Saxony.
I guess that on this assessment the work is unlikely to be heard. Yet it seems a pity that the present day Halle orchestra could not have made just one performance or recording of this work. After all, Alan Rawsthorne is one of Manchester’s greatest musical sons.

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