Sunday, 18 September 2016

The 1945 Victory Symphony Contest in the Daily Express: The Premieres

The Daily Mail (10 June 1946) reported on the success of their rival newspaper’s Victory Symphony competition. Ralph Hill insisted that the paper has to be congratulated on its success in bringing to ‘the notice of the musical public two gifted young composers, Cedric Thorpe Davie and Bernard Stevens.’
Thorpe Davies’ Symphony in C major and Stevens’ 'A Symphony of Liberation’ were given their premiere performances by the London Philharmonic under the baton of Constant Lambert and Dr Malcolm Sargent respectively at the Royal Albert Hall on Friday evening.
Hill considered that ‘both symphonies show skillful craftsmanship in their construction and orchestration, an individual and expressive melodic sense, and a wide range that is free from eccentricity.’
He finishes his review by suggesting that Stevens’ symphony ‘is undoubtedly the more important work on account of the greater imagination displayed in its construction and treatment.’  He will regard the future of these two composers ‘with interest.’ 

An unsigned review in The Times (10 June 1946) explained that both symphonies were in three movements and both were ‘compact in form.’ Cedric Thorpe Davie had made use of the traditional central slow movement between two allegros, whereas Stevens has a ‘more definite programme [with] his movements entitled ‘Enslavement’, ‘Resistance’ and ‘Liberation’ respectively.’ This allows the composer to work from ‘darkness to light, placing his slow movement first.’  The reviewer thinks that both works ‘contain effective music, especially Davie’s funeral dirge and Steven’s scherzo.’  In his opinion both finales proved to be the weakest parts of each work. He writes, ‘one relied on popular themes to represent the construction of the brave new world: the other sought to express joy in liberation in a fugal movement, which unhappily disintegrated halfway through, owing, one suspects, to ineffective orchestration.’
He concludes the review by suggesting that ‘what was lacking in both was a great tune that would have provided a true climax embodying our joy and thankfulness and resolution.’ I am glad that neither composer did compose a popular tune: there would be plenty of time in the future for Malcolm Arnold to oblige in this direction.

Both works were given fine performances by the London Philharmonic Orchestra under Constant Lambert (Davie) and Dr Malcolm Sargent (Stevens). 

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