Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Cheltenham Festival: Twelve Years of New Symphonies (1957-1969)

Continuing my exploration of the much misaligned ‘Cheltenham Symphony,’ I find that the genre has tended to become rarer from 1957 onwards. Between 1945 and 1956 there were some 20 symphonies or symphonic works receiving their first performances at the Cheltenham Festival. The following dozen years produced only thirteen.  Four years, 1958, 1959, 1967 and 1968 saw no new works from this genre performed.  However, I believe that the survival rate is greater that for the previous decade. Some of these works have gained a tentative foothold in the recorded repertoire, if not the concert hall.  Where there is a recording of the work in question I have given a link to the CD. [Not a complete discography] 
1957 Robert Simpson – Symphony No.2  Hyperion EMI
1957 Arthur Butterworth – Symphony No.1 Dutton Epoch Classico
1960 Benjamin Frankel - Symphony No.1, Op.33 (British premiere)  CPO
1961 Malcolm Arnold – Symphony No.5, Op.74 Chandos Naxos
1962 Alun Hoddinott – Symphony No.2, Op.29 Lyrita
1962 Benjamin Frankel – Symphony No.2, Op.38 CPO

1962 Peter Maxwell Davies - Sinfonia, Op.20  Regis
1963 Thea Musgrave – Sinfonia
1964 Alan Rawsthorne – Symphony No.3 Lyrita Naxos
1965 Wilfred Josephs - Symphony No.2, Op.42
1965 Gordon Crosse - Sinfonia Concertante, Op.13
1966 John McCabe - Symphony No.1, Elegy On LP Pye Virtuoso TPLS13005
1966 Egon Wellesz - Symphony No.6, Op.95 (British premiere) CPO
1969 Lennox Berkeley - Symphony No.3, Op.74  Chandos Lyrita

Malcolm Arnold’s Symphony No.5 has a strong contention to be the most ‘popular’ of the list with some six versions currently listed in the CD catalogue. All of Robert Simpson’s Symphonies were recorded by Hyperion in the 1990s. The present Symphony No.2 was released in 1997 coupled with the Fifth. Arthur Butterworth has seen some of his eight symphonies recorded with the First currently available on Dutton Epoch as an historical recording dating from 1958 and also on the Classico Label, which I believe has been deleted. Benjamin Frankel has fared well in so far as all his symphonies have received a single recording from CPO between 1995 and 1998.  The same record company also delivered the complete corpus of Egon Wellesz’s Symphonies which were issued in the early 2000s.
Alun Hoddinott’s Symphony No. 2 was originally released on the old PYE Virtuoso label and was subsequently reissued on CD by Lyrita.   Lennox Berkeley’s Third Symphony is available on Lyrita and Chandos.   Rawsthorne was released on Lyrita and on Naxos. Finally, John McCabe’s Symphony No.1 was issued on PYE Virtuoso in 1968. It has not appeared on CD. However, there is a YouTube file of this fine work.
Gordon Crosse’s Sinfonia Concertante Op.113 was rewritten by the composer and was published as Symphony No.1. This has been recorded on vinyl in 1981: it does not appear to have been reissued on CD, nor has it shown up on YouTube. Unfortunately, Thea Musgrave’s Sinfonia does not appear to have been recorded: nor does Wilfred Josephs’ Symphony No.2, Op.42.

I have heard all these works (Musgrave, Crosse and Josephs excepted) and consider that all are worthy pieces. Whilst none could be described as ground-breaking in their sound world or construction, they surely all to better represented in the concert listings.  My personal favourites include McCabe, Wellesz, Hoddinott and Butterworth, although most of the others impress me and are part of my listening experience. 

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