Thursday, 4 November 2010

Alan Rawsthorne: Overture Hallé – revisited

I wrote about the largely forgotten Overture Hallé by Alan Rawsthorne the other day. I suggested that based on John McCabe’s evaluation it is hardly likely to be revived. However for a slightly different slant on the piece I found a review in the Manchester Guardian for February 17 1958. The article is entitled ‘Hallé Overture – Rawsthorne’s tribute to a ‘mighty band.’
The reviewer notes that the first performance of this work was the solitary contribution to the Centenary celebrations from a contemporary composer. He quotes the composer as saying in the programme note that as a Lancashire born lad he had grown up among “this mighty band of musicians some thirty of more years ago.’ The reviewer noted that the composer was in the audience.
The body of the review suggests that, ‘he has not written a conventional festive piece. It is emotionally volatile and if anything it is grave in mood and a slow tempo that predominates.’ He considered that this stately music made the strongest impression. The faster music was felt to be in the composer’s familiar and unmistakable idiom. However, ‘in the slow sections there are sounds, both in the melody and the harmony, that are new to his music.’ He continues by noting that one striking effect orchestral harmony, repeated several times, is the gradual thinning, in several stages, of a dissonant chord that seems to grow sharper instead of milder as the notes are taken away from it.
However there is a sting in the tail. The reviewer feels that some of these orchestral devices are somewhat self conscious. He concludes his review by saying:- ‘My impression as far as it was possible to judge without a score or previous knowledge of the piece, was that the players and Sir John Barbirolli were not doing quite as well for it as they might have done. This may have contributed to the confused and unsatisfactory impression gained at this first hearing, of the overture’s form, which in the composer’s programme note sounds characteristically clear and economical.
So perhaps based on this rather mixed review, where some of the blame for the works apparent failure lay at the door of Sir John, it may be that a revival of this work could prove interesting. Certainly I have a few more avenues to explore in gaining an understanding of this overture. In fact I may well go and have a look at the score! To be continued.

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