In 2008 Dutton Epoch released an important CD which drew together a number of works by Alan Rawsthorne that were either premiere recordings or were hard to find and currently missing from the record catalogues. This included the Theme, Variations and Finale for orchestra. The main work on this disc was the composer’s take on T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.
Other works on the disc comprised the relatively popular ‘Street Corner’ Overture written in 1944 for ENSA. The Madame Chrysanthème ballet suite (1957) derived from the ballet first performed at Sadler’s Wells on 1 April 1955. A recording of the complete score was issued on White Line (CD WLS 273), with the Royal Ballet Sinfonia conducted by Barry Wordsworth in 2004. It was part of the remarkable ‘Tribute to Fred [Ashton] album. The other premiere performances featured on this CD include the ‘Medieval Diptych’ for baritone and orchestra (1962) and the ‘Coronation Overture’ (1953) which was completed by John McCabe. The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra is conducted by David Lloyd-Jones. The narrator in ‘Practical’ Cats is Simon Callow.
The CD featured as the ‘editor’s choice’ in the July 2008 edition of The Gramophone. James Inverne did not specifically mention the Theme, Variations and Finale, however he was enthusiastic about ‘Practical Cats’ and mentions the ‘enjoyable companion pieces’ in passing. He thinks the CD ‘is a real treat.’
Andrew Lamb formally reviewed the disc in the same edition. Once again he does not explicitly discuss the present work, save to say that is was previously unrecorded. Most of his enthusiasm is directed to ‘Practical Cats.’ His conclusion is that ‘altogether this impressive and important collection is clearly recommendable – and not only for Rawsthorne Fans.
Rob Barnett comes to the rescue by actually writing about the work (MusicWeb International, 8 May 2008). He mentions that ‘The Theme, Variations and Finale dates from 1967 but presumably because it was written for Graham Treacher and Essex Youth Orchestra it is softer in language than we might expect from late Rawsthorne. There is an angularity to this writing but it's gentle and the turmoil is comparable with that of Cortèges and Street Corner.’
The June 2008 edition of the Rawsthorne Society newsletter The Sprat notes that the Theme, Variations and Finale ‘makes no concessions for this age group [youth orchestra] in its technical demands or seriousness.’ The review was written by the late John Belcher, who has made use of his own liner notes for the CD. He concludes by pointing out that ‘earlier acquaintance with the work had been gained from an inferior dubbing from the composer’s record collection of very low fi and badly abused acetate. This well-played performance, in pristine sound, does provide the opportunity to appreciate the strengths of this work, the subtleties of the orchestral writing and the quality of the thought which informs the development.’
Alan Rawsthorne’s Theme, Variations and Finale for orchestra is available on Dutton Epoch CDLX7203.