I remarked at the end of my post about Humphrey Searle’s Night Music that it seemed remarkable that there is only a single recording of this work. At the time its composition, there was plan for Decca to record all the pieces that had been selected for inclusion in the Committee for the Promotion of New Music rehearsal concerts. In fact, few, if any of these were ever recorded.
In 1996, CPO records released the first of two CDs featuring the cycle of symphonies by Humphrey Searle. This included Symphonies Nos, 2, 3 and 5 (CPO 999 376-2). Three years later, the two remaining Symphonies were issued. Included on this second CD were two orchestral works: the present Night Music, op.2 (1943) and the Overture to a Drama, op.17 (1949). Except for the 1st and the 2nd Symphonies, which had been released on Decca SXL 2232 and Lyrita SRCS 72 respectively, these are all premiere recordings.
Reviewing the recording of the Symphonies Nos. 2, 3 & 5 Michael Oliver (MEO) (The Gramophone February 1997) praised the ‘performances and recordings [which] are so good that a companion disc of his First and Fourth Symphonies would be welcome [eventually released]. Enthusiastically, he suggested that this symphonic cycle ‘might lead to a demand…for recordings of [Searle’s] strikingly original trilogy of melodramas for speaker and orchestra, Gold Coast Customs, The Riverrun and The Shadow of Cain. [yet to happen].
MEOs final thought was ‘Dour and grey Searle certainly wasn’t; there’s even a brief hint of jovial humour in the Fifth Symphony. Indeed, this disc demonstrates that among British symphonists of his period (Arnold, Frankel, Fricker, Lloyd, Rawsthorne, Simpson) Searle stands higher than most.'
Robert Layton (The Gramophone, May 1999) summed Searle’s symphonic success. Readers are reminded about the ‘ongoing success’ of CPOs Benjamin Frankel symphonic cycle. Layton suggests that ‘at his best, Searle is a rewarding composer under whose dodecaphony beats a human heart’ in spite of his music not being immediately ‘accessible’. He notes that the Fourth Symphony is ‘perhaps Searle’s most austere and elusive work…a formidably gripping piece.’
The major review of the CPO recording of Night Music was presented in The Gramophone (April 1999). Once again, the task was taken up by MEO. He believed that this CD ‘gives and admirable indication of the sheer variety that lies behind the off-putting label that Humphrey Searle has acquired in many people’s minds: atonal Cheltenham Symphonist.’ Regarding Night Music, which he considers to be an ‘uncommonly assured and accomplished op.2’: it presents a ‘likeable’ work in spite of its ‘battery of learned contrapuntal devices.’ He concludes that the entire CD contains ‘admirable performances’ and is ‘finely recorded.’
A specific comment about Night Music appeared in Philip Haldeman’s review for the American Record Guide (July 2005). He thought that it ‘is more contrapuntal and linear than anything else here. The mood is nocturnal, but not lush, with piquant woodwinds that seem to mock the more serious aura of night.’ A few months later, Jerry Dubins writing in Fanfare (September 200) thought that Night Music, dedicated to Webern on his 60th birthday, (1943) contains some of the creepiest horror-movie music you've ever heard.
I have come to enjoy Night Music and think that it makes an excellent introduction to Humphrey Searle’s musical achievement.
Alun Francis, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Humphrey Searle Symphonies No.2, op.33, No.3, op.36 and No.5, op.43, CPO 999 376-2, 1996.
Alun Francis, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Humphrey Searle Symphonies Nos.1, op,23, No.4, op.38, Night Music, op.2, Overture to a Drama, op.17 CPO 999 541-2, 1999.