The first performance of The Innumerable Dance: An English Overture was during at a BBC concert broadcast on 8 December 1935 at 5.15 pm. ‘Section C’ of the BBC Orchestra were conducted by Aylmer Buesst. Other works heard were a Prelude and Gigue by J.S. Bach arranged by Gerrard Williams, Edward Elgar’s Sea Pictures with Muriel Brunskill as contralto soloist, Ravel’s arrangement of Claude Debussy’s Sarabande and Dance, two songs by Cecil Armstrong Gibbs (‘Silver’ and ‘Five Eyes’) and concluding with the ballet suite from Jules Massenet’s La Cigale.
The Naxos recording, dating from 2006 may be the first opportunity since that broadcast to have heard this work.
The earliest review I can find of The Innumerable Dance was in W.R. Anderson’s ‘Wireless Notes’ published in the Musical Times (January 1936). He wrote that it ‘showed the lustiness of spring, and is in a more attractive idiom than some of the composer's other works...’
The longest single discussion of this work is in the eponymous study by Adrian Wright (The Innumerable Dance: The Life and Music of William Alwyn, Boydell Press, 2008)
Wright begins by suggesting that this is a ‘vignette’ and not really an ‘overture.’ He notes the work’s premiere and cites the Musical Times review before reminding the reader that it comes from Blake’s poem ‘Milton’, which was ‘very much in Alwyn’s mind during this period. These words display ‘the vernal, perpetually recurring business of Spring, of honeysuckle, herb and flower.’’
After describing the ‘opening whispered passage’ and its gradual building up, Wright feels that the ‘typically Alwynesque climax’ is ‘more symphonic, perhaps than almost anything he had attempted before.’
Wright remarks on the ‘orchestral comments’ made during the dance: these include ‘brass alarums alongside reflective woodwind sequences.’ He concludes his analysis by noting that ‘the Bacchanalian interventions (blaring brass, for a moment) that break through the steady rhythm of the dance lead on to a positive finale which reasserts its Baxian wildness.’
The Naxos CD was reviewed by Christopher Thomas (MusicWeb International, March 2007). He reminded the reader that Alwyn was in his twenty-eighth year at the time and ‘as such reflects a less individual though no less finely honed compositional voice.’ Thomas suggests ‘the influence of several composers’ flits across the surface of the music. Not that this fact detracts from the overall result, which is both beautifully orchestrated and charming.’ Finally, he concludes with amazement that ‘this is music, that has gathered dust for so long’ and considers it ‘entirely fitting that the RLPO give it a thoroughly convincing premiere recording.’
Jonathan Woolf, also for MusicWeb International (February 2007), felt that the The Innumerable Dance was ‘most appealing…in the more verdant and openhearted sections where Straussian effulgence reigns. The more cock-eyed folkloric sections have a distinctly Graingeresque cast and are full of fun and enjoyment.’