Monday 1 June 2015

Lyrita release recordings of three very fine symphonies by British composer Malcolm Lipkin

Malcolm Lipkin (b.1932) first came to prominence in 1951 when he played his Third Piano Sonata at the Gaudeamus Foundation Music Week in Holland at the age of nineteen. Performances of his Fourth Piano Sonata were given by the late Peter Katin and his Piano Concerto by Lamar Crowson with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, both at Cheltenham Festivals in the 1950s. His First Violin Sonata received its premiere in London in 1958 by Yfrah Neaman and Howard Ferguson.

It was Yfrah Neaman that commissioned his Violin Concerto No.2, giving its first performance in 1963 with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra under Constantin Silvestri. Three years later, Lipkin's Sinfonia di Roma (Symphony No.1) was premiered by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic conducted by Sir Charles Groves.

During the past decade his works have received greater recognition following the success of The Pursuit (Symphony No.2), first performed in Manchester in 1983 and his Sun (Symphony No.3) performed by the BBC Philharmonic in 1993, an orchestra which has now publicly performed all three of his symphonies.

A steady flow of chamber and instrumental works has included the Fifth Piano Sonata (1986), Prelude and Dance for Cello and Piano, written in memory of Jacqueline du Pré and premiered by Robert Cohen and Alan Gravill at the City of London Festival in 1988 and the Piano Trio (1988), which was commissioned by the English Piano Trio and first performed by them at the Purcell Room.

His Variations on a theme of Bartók for String Quartet, one of his major chamber works, was first heard at the 1992 Newbury Spring Festival, played by the Delmé Quartet. In the same year his Dance Fantasy for Solo Violin was the test piece commissioned for the Carl Flesch International Violin Competition. 1993 brought his Five Bagatelles for Oboe and Piano, written for Nicholas Daniel and Julius Drake and performed by them in London at the Wigmore Hall. In 1995 he completed his Duo for Violin and Cello. 1998 saw another orchestral work, From Across La Manche, commissioned by the Primavera Chamber Orchestra in 1998 and his Fifth Piano Sonata that was given a second London performance by its dedicatee, Jeremy Carter, at the Wigmore Hall.

Another piano work, Nocturne No.2, was given by Kathryn Stott at the Pianoworks '99 Festival in Blackheath. On this occasion she also played his Nocturne No.1, written to celebrate the 75th birthday of the legendary Eileen Joyce. Both these performances were subsequently broadcast on BBC Radio 3. Lipkin's Nocturne No.4 was premiered by Stephen Coombs in Brighton. A Second Violin Sonata, commissioned for Levon Chilingirian and Clifford Benson by Green Room Music, Royal Tunbridge Wells was first performed in 1998 in Tunbridge Wells and has since been heard at the Lichfield Festival and in London.

It is the Sinfonia di Roma (Symphony No.1), The Pursuit (Symphony No.2) and Sun (Symphony No.3) that have just been released by Lyrita  in BBC recordings made in 1988, 1983 and 1993 respectively.

SRCD 349

Sinfonia di Roma (Symphony No.1) (1958-1965) is performed by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra conducted by Lionel Friend and recorded in Broadcasting House, Glasgow, Scotland. It is inspired by earlier memories of the traffic around the Villa Borghese in Rome and is in three linked movements.

Intrada opens quietly and gently on a horn motif taken up by various woodwind instruments before developing. There is a quiet, rather withdrawn nature to the music before it subtly increases in passion briefly before falling back. It tries to rise again but soon falls back before weaving slowly and gently through some fine passages all created from the opening motif. Despite occasional brief outbursts, the music continues with a quiet, rather pensive feeling before leading straight into the Scherzo introduced by a brass ensemble.

The music slowly tries to develop dynamically, with fragmented motifs. Slowly it gains a forward flow, building in power with brass and percussion. There are sudden outbursts of brass before, midway, falling to a hush in a lovely passage. Again the music rises up with staccato brass creating the feel of a frenzied chaotic scene. It gathers ever more drama and noise as the music thunders to a sudden conclusion before a brief hush leads us into the Notturno.

Woodwind, then brass, then strings bring the Notturno but it is the strings that try to raise the music, but it moves on slowly with many details from various instruments creating music that is full of interest and mystery with some lovely use of the orchestra. The music is rarely allowed to proceed without delay or interruption even though it remains rather quiet. This is a real Notturno in every sense. There are some lovely combinations of instruments, providing fine textures and colours as well as attractive brass sonorities and lovely woodwind passages before arriving at the coda.

This is a first rate performance from Lionel Friend and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.

Edward Downes conducts the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra  in the one movement The Pursuit (Symphony No.2) which has as its basis the concept of time and distance. There is a quiet, gentle string opening before an oboe brings a brief passage. The strings pick up the pace before brass join, woodwind scurry around and the music builds in drama and dynamics. A rhythmic undertow pulls the music forward as fragmented brass motifs arrive before giving way to a longer breathed melody. A gloomier, serious passage arrives where woodwind chirrup over a quiet orchestra.  Soon the music becomes more aggressive as it rises in drama before moving through passages of fine detail before, rising to an impressive climax, underpinned by percussion. The brass intone in this terrific moment before the music drops to a quiet woodwind passage where a lovely theme is woven.

Midway, the music rises with a grand brass motif that is repeated, before reducing to a slow, quiet section that follows beautifully after the drama. There is some fine flowing melody, shared around the orchestra, led by the strings. A hesitancy does creep in occasionally but eventually the music again builds in power and passion only to soon drop back to a hush. An insistent rhythmic motif appears that leads to a riotous brass passage before a striding rhythmic theme, slowly and decisively pointed up by bass drum, leads forward.  The music strides confidently, rising impressively with cymbal clashes to a loud climax before all drops to a hush as oboe and a viola present a repeated motif that leads to the coda.

This is another very fine symphony. Edward Downes and the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra deliver a very fine performance indeed well recorded at BBC Studio 7, Manchester, England in 1983.

Sun (Symphony No.3) again features the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, this time conducted by that still underrated conductor Adrian Leaper in a BBC recording made at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, England in 1993. This symphony takes as its stating point lines from a poem by 17th century poet, Robert Herrick touching metaphysically on the transience of life.

‘The Glorious Lamp of Heaven, the Sun,
The higher he’s a getting;
The Sooner will his Race be run,
And neerer he’s to Setting.

Lower strings sound out in the opening over which a trumpet plays a tune taken up by the other brass, then woodwind, underpinned by timpani. There are real feelings of restrained drama and expectation. The music falls to a quiet, gentle passage for woodwind and brass before the upper strings try to raise the music, but the lower strings continue slowly ruminating on the theme. Gently the music rises again with a cor-anglais, then bassoon and other woodwind adding to the texture. There is a rising motif and some lovely chirrups of woodwind as the music slowly speeds up, leading to a frantic, forward moving passage. Soon a harp and woodwind bring a stiller passage before woodwind lead on in the same rising motif. Later a broader string passage arrives but the pensive nature continues. Eventually, by the halfway mark, insistent strings are heard but are taken over by a repeated woodwind passage where there are some lovely blends of instruments. The insistent strings resume before we arrive at a dramatic point. Brass and woodwind shoot out staccato notes but hushed strings lead on before growing more intense. The music moves through more passages of woodwind tranquility with lovely little woodwind details before rising in drama with percussion support. After a brief quieter section, scurrying strings and timpani lead on as the music rises to a dramatic climax.  The music falls to a quiet woodwind section with rhythmic pulse in the basses before moving to a gloriously hushed coda.

This is a terrific symphony given an excellent performance by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra under Adrian Leaper.

All of these BBC recordings are first rate and there are excellent booklet notes.

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