Wednesday 27 July 2016

Lyrita’s Itter Broadcast Collection brings wonderful new finds with William Wordsworth’s First and Fifth Symphonies gleaned from BBC Broadcasts

The British composer, William Wordsworth (1908-1988) was born in London and studied harmony and counterpoint under George Oldroyd (1887-1956), later continuing his studies with Donald Tovey (1875-1940) at Edinburgh University.  He lived in England until 1961 when he moved to Inverness-shire where he helped to found the Scottish Composer's Guild. He was a descendent of Christopher Wordsworth, brother of the famous poet.

Wordsworth’s compositions include concertos, chamber works, vocal and piano works as well as eight symphonies.

Of the symphonies, Lyrita have previously released a recording of the Symphony No.2 in D, Op.34 and Symphony No. 3 in C, Op.48 (SRCD 207) with the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Nicholas Braithwaite.

Now in their Itter Broadcast Collection comes recordings of Symphonies 1 and 5 coupled with Wordsworth’s Conflict Overture.

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Founder of Lyrita Recorded Edition , Richard Itter had a life-long fascination with recording, acquiring professional equipment for disc and tape recording for his own private use. From his home, where he was able to receive a good signal, he made domestic recordings from BBC transmissions of Proms, premieres, operas, symphonies and chamber music totalling more than 1500 works between 1952 and 1996. Initially recording on magnetic tape particularly important performances were transferred to acetate disc. These fragile discs were never played and have remained in excellent condition, as have the majority of the tapes which make up the bulk of the collection. In 2014 the Lyrita Recorded Edition Trust begun to transfer this priceless archive and has put in place formal agreements with the BBC and the Musicians Union to enable the release of items from it to the public as the Itter Broadcast Collection.

James Loughran conducts the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in a live mono recording of the Overture 'Conflict' for orchestra Op.86 (1968) broadcast by the BBC on 17th January 1971. It opens purposefully with a steadily increasing forward pushing theme, rising to moments of drama with cymbal clashes and a variety of instrumental interventions. A xylophone and a myriad of percussion and instrumental sounds achieve a real brilliance in the orchestra. Soon the music falls to a quieter moment for clarinet, passed through the orchestra as the music rises again, the xylophone again heard, finding a terrific forward momentum, reaching a passage of immense force. The music gives way to a swirling of woodwind over a string layer before rising again with timpani and percussion making a terrific noise, full of violence. Later there is another quieter passage, this time for strings before quickly moving forward.  Brass appears and there are ripples from the harp heard over a shimmering orchestra over which the woodwind flow before rising to a brilliant coda.

The live mono recording is a little boxy but reveals a surprising amount of detail. Applause is kept in at the end.

Wordsworth’s Symphony No.1 in F minor Op.23 (1944) was first performed by the BBC Northern Orchestra (later renamed the BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra, now the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra) conducted by Julius Harrison in 1946 in a studio recording broadcast by the BBC.

In four movements, a series of orchestral chords herald the opening of the Allegro maestoso before leading forward through some rather angular phrases. The music soon slows to a gentler passage for strings with occasional brass, through a meditative, brooding section with pizzicato basses before finding more of a flow as the theme is developed, with sudden little dynamic outbursts. The music rises and increases in tempo with a dominant part for brass. There is a pensive passage with some lovely woodwind phrases before a lone trumpet brings an affecting moment over a hushed orchestra before rising with plenty of brass to lead to the end.

In the Adagio ma non troppo there is a slow melancholy opening for woodwind, soon taken forward by strings before woven between brass and woodwind. The music slowly rises only to immediately fall back to a ponderous passage in the basses, full of brooding intensity. It manages to rise up again with cymbal clashes and brass as the emotional cork is finally let out of the bottle before finding its way back to its brooding nature. Individual instruments take and weave the melody before almost faltering to a standstill, only to move slowly and sadly on to the grief stricken coda.  

The Scherzo. Allegro con brio moves forward in a rising and falling motif before rising up as the theme is woven through the orchestra. Again there are cymbal clashes before the music subsides into a steady forward drive. Soon the music slowly gets quieter but rises to push forward with intensity. Wordsworth often achieves a great brilliance of orchestral sound. Again a hushed forward motion is found before rising to forge ahead to the coda.

The concluding Andante largamente – Allegro opens gloomily in the basses before soon rising up through the orchestra in a slow melancholy theme, with some very fine woodwind and brass passages in this intensely brooding music. Later the strings lighten the mood, increasing in tempo, though keeping a feeling of anxiety, expanding through the orchestra as more of a sense of momentum increases. There are some attractive runs through the woodwind as the music subsides to a hush. The strings slowly and sadly move forward, brass join to add to the deep melancholy before the music speeds through brass passages of greater strength with the orchestral sound finding a greater momentum and impact. There are cymbal clashes and much brass as the music defiantly heads forward to a hard won triumph.
This is a symphony of some power and emotion. The mono recording is more spacious though there is a little background hiss.

The Symphony No.5 in A minor Op.68 (1960) was also first performed in a BBC broadcast concert by the BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Adrian Boult.

In three movements the Andante maestoso opens with a slowly flowing, rather earnest theme that soon rises. An oboe, then cor-anglais, bring a wonderfully gentle theme, shared by the two instruments over a pulsating orchestra together with harp. The music rises through some fine moments with the cor-anglais again heard, Wordsworth weaving some magical sounds. There is a haunting, flowing, passage for the higher strings, of great emotional depth, that is soon shaped into a more dynamic passage for full orchestra, pointed up by timpani and brass. Later the music finds a subtler undulation with the oboe bringing a gentler, slower moment, again shared with the cor-anglais. There are delicate phrases with harp as the flute takes the theme, later woven through the strings, the composer creating some quite wonderful orchestral sonorities. Eventually there is a violin solo with woodwind woven around in another wonderful passage. Wordsworth had some wonderfully fine ideas bringing a rather luminescent sound as the orchestra rises out of the smaller ensemble, the violin weaving through the woodwind to find a lovely coda.

Wordsworth finds a remarkably individual, delicate, quietly rhythmic opening for percussion, pizzicato strings and celeste in the Allegro, soon taken up by the rest of the orchestra as the music rises. Soon there is a more flowing, forward drive with many fine little instrumental details. A xylophone adds spiky rhythmic phrases before a flute leads over a lovely string layer in a dancing staccato passage in a delicate little tune. The music picks up in force to drive forward, timpani adding weight before woodwind flurries take us back to a quieter, delicate moment for harp and percussion. The music again moves quickly ahead only to find a quizzical, delicate conclusion, though not without a final loud orchestral chord.

The Andante largamente – Allegro opens darkly in the basses, slowly rising through the strings, very reminiscent of the opening of the andante largamente of the first symphony. The music soon gains in angst and intensity until the brass and timpani declare the reaching of a plateau as the orchestra moves resolutely forward. Brass fanfares are heard but the music continues to head forward. A fast moving skittish passage arrives, pointed up by percussion and there are moments of broader, slower music for brass as well as passages of flowing strings. Centrally there is a calmer moment for brass and percussion before speeding ahead in the strings with brass adding colour and brilliance. A broad, confident string led passage occurs before the woodwind bring a slower passage but the orchestra soon rises to a resolute coda, wonderfully coloured by percussion.

This is, perhaps, the most impressive and individual work here. The stereo recording is full and detailed, if a little top heavy.

We are lucky to have these fine works in recordings that belie their origins. We should thank Lyrita for all the work they are doing in bringing such neglected works to our attention.

The performances are first rate and there are excellent, very full booklet notes.

I wonder if there are any more of this composer’s symphonies hiding in Mr Itter’s collection. I do hope so.

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