Friday 17 February 2017

A much welcome release of Daniel Jones’ Symphonies 1 and 10 from Lyrita, first fruit of a new licensing agreement with the BBC which will see Symphonies 2, 3, 5, 11 and 12 appear during 2017/18 all with the BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra conducted by Bryden Thomson

The Welsh composer, (1912-1993) was born in Pembroke to a father, Jenkyn Jones, who was a composer and a mother who was a singer. Against this background the young Jones developed quickly, writing several piano sonatas by the age of nine.  

Whilst attending Bishop Gore School in Swansea he established a close friendship with the poet Dylan Thomas. He went on to study English literature at Swansea University, leaving in 1935 to study music at the Royal Academy of Music in London where his teachers included Sir Henry Wood and Harry Farjeon. It was his winning the Mendelssohn Scholarship that allowed him to study in Czechoslovakia, France, the Netherlands and Germany. In the period leading up to World War II he composed his first large-scale orchestral works, Symphonic Prologue and Five Pieces for Orchestra.  

During the War he served as a captain in the Intelligence Corps at Bletchley Park using his linguistic abilities as a cryptographer and a decoder of Russian, Romanian and Japanese texts.

After the war Jones wrote his First Symphony (1947). Thereafter most of his compositions were written to commission with requests from the Festival of Britain, the Swansea Festival, the Royal National Eisteddfod, the BBC, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the Llandaff Festival. Between 1945 and 1985 he composed his series of twelve symphonies; each centred on one semi-tone of the chromatic scale. In 1992 came his unnumbered Symphony in Memoriam John Fussell (effectively his 13th symphony). Jones’ compositions also include concertos, eight string quartets, four cantatas, an oratorio and two operas.

In the 1030s Jones devised his own compositional system of Complex Metres or alternating metrical patterns, involving irregular time signatures. He gave Purcell as a leading influence, as well as Berlioz, Elgar and Janáček and Haydn.

Daniel Jones was awarded an OBE in 1968. He died in Swansea in 1993.

Whilst Chandos recorded Jones’ Complete String Quartets with the Delme String Quartet in 1996 (CHAN 9535), his symphonies have fared less well. Lyrita released recordings of his Sixth and Ninth Symphonies in 1996 (SRCD326) and the Fourth, Seventh and Eight Symphonies on CD in 2007 (SRCD329). Since then nothing has appeared.

Now the good news is that Lyrita have entered into an agreement with the BBC to issue BBC broadcast recordings of Symphonies Nos 1, 2, 3, 5, 10, 11 and 12 with the BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra conducted by Bryden Thomson for release in 2017/18. The first fruit of this new licensing agreement is the release of Daniel Jones’ Symphonies 1 and 10.

SRCD 358

Daniel Jones began his Symphony No.1 (1947) in 1944, whilst still serving in the army. The complete work was premiered at the 1949 Swansea Festival by the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by the composer. Scored for large orchestra it is in the usual four movements.

Allegro moderato opens with tentative phrases from the lower orchestra before rising through the orchestra as the theme is developed. There are some lovely, sudden woodwind flourishes with the music growing more dramatic as brass sound out. The music moves through passages of passionate forward flow as it develops subtly. Soon there is a lovely passage for oboe and other woodwind, a reflective moment before whipping up greater passion and drama to a terrific climax. There is a fine working out of the material of the opening motif with some particularly fleet string counterpoint as the development continues before slowly bringing a more gentle and settled statement of the opening motif to close.

Movement II does not have a tempo marking but is effectively the slow movement where deep bass intone as the strings bring a rich slow, passionate theme. Soon the music drops back to ruminate in the basses before heaving itself through passages of desolate beauty, first in the woodwind then for strings, growing in power yet with the brass still bringing a deep gloom. An oboe appears over pulsating strings in a plaintive theme, taken by the orchestra. An insistent rhythmic section appears before a bassoon quietly takes the theme over gently pulsating strings. The music develops through a variety of instrumental combinations, beautifully woven, slowly gaining in strength again as brass join. Later there is a quieter, rather melancholy section that builds in passion but again fades away into a quieter sadness. The music builds again with dominant brass to a peak where the theme is boldly, dramatically and insistently stated before falling to a quiet coda on an unresolved chord.

The Scherzo. Allegro moderato has a rather lighter, buoyant theme that dances ahead with little flute flourishes before slowly becoming more incisive as the rhythmic theme moves forward. The music develops through a variety of ideas, always with a light air with further lovely woodwind moments. There is a central trio section with a more flowing theme for strings, punctuated by brass and woodwind before the opening theme returns to dance to the decisive coda.

The basses open the Finale. Allegro, soon joined by woodwind in a slow, quite lovely theme, that gains more of a forward flow. The strings bring back a slower, more thoughtful section through which individual strings weave before rising on a trumpet call only to return to the slow string theme, albeit with a little more passion. The music suddenly finds a faster, rhythmically bouncing theme to move forward with some terrific orchestral details as woodwind, pizzicato strings and brass have their moment. Later the basses bring a slow section through which woodwind appear, slowly gaining in tempo and dynamics as the music moves through some terrific rapid, razor sharp string phrases. Eventually the music slows again for a passionate string melody, slowly moving forward, beautifully shaped, through shifting harmonies before bouncing ahead again, gaining in energy with brass and woodwind to a sudden declamatory coda.

Whilst not as concise as Jones’ later symphonies this is, nevertheless, a very fine first symphony. Given how welcome this recording is it seems almost churlish to mention that the stereo recording is rather grainy and lacks focus but is perfectly acceptable.

We jump forward nearly 35 years to the Symphony No.10 (1981) commissioned by the Llandaff Festival of Music and premiered by the BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Charles Groves that year.

Though much more concise it is, nevertheless, in four movements. A bell chimes before the orchestra and then sounds out dramatically in a series of impassioned outcries to introduce Solenne. The music falls back to a quieter passage yet still with an underlying tension. There is a further bell chime that heralds a passage of shifting, tense development. Here the symphonic argument is much more taut, yet with all of Jones’ distinctive orchestral detail. There are further dramatic outcries as the music sweeps forward. A brief quieter passage precedes a searingly dramatic coda.

A side drum and timpani announce a fast moving, rather syncopated theme in the Minacciando that thrusts ahead full of drama and confidence, building in waves to a forthright end.  

Serioso brings pizzicato basses that are responded to by the other lower strings. Brass join as the music rises with the strings bringing a fine melody that has a melancholy edge. A flute joins and other woodwind, bringing some lovely harmonies and sonorities.  Percussion add brilliance and colour as the music rises further, developing with a great weight through which individual instruments appear. Midway there is a moment of quiet stillness before the music rises again only to fall and rise in a passionate string passage. Pizzicato strings return, with the brass to lead to the coda where the music loses its force to end quietly.

In the concluding Agitato percussion point up the opening as the orchestra surges forward in waves. Pizzicato strings lighten the texture briefly but soon the music again thunders dramatically forward. There are bell chimes before brass and timpani sound out. The woodwind add phrases before a dynamic, resolute coda.

This is a terrific symphony, not a note too long, full of wonderful ideas and orchestration. I am pleased to say that the recording is in every way superior, vivid, detailed and better balanced.

That very fine conductor the late Brydon Thomson really had the measure of these symphonies. There are very useful booklet notes. 

Thank you Lyrita and the BBC – I await the next instalment with anticipation.


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