To commemorate William Alwyn's centenary in 2005, Naxos began its series of his complete symphonies and other orchestral works with recordings of the single-movement Symphony No. 5, "Hydriotaphia"; the Concerto for harp and orchestra, "Lyra Angelica"; and the two-movement Symphony No. 2. This composer is most famous for his scores for numerous British films from the 1930s through the 1950s, but his concert music was actively supported by Sir John Barbirolli, and his reputation as a symphonist and opera composer was firmly established by the 1970s. Alwyn's music in his symphonies is sumptuous, sinuous, and lavishly orchestrated, and always sounds professionally polished, like his soundtrack music. Yet as a consequence, his form and overall trajectory seem less symphonic than freely rhapsodic; and pursuing the development of Alwyn's themes through his seductive scores seems almost beside the point: this is an inventive colorist, not a rigorous theoretician. Alwyn's relaxed, late-late Romanticism is pretty and appealing, especially in "Lyra Angelica," which harpist Suzanne Wilison and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, under David Lloyd-Jones, play with delicate colors and poignant expression. But the symphonies have greater impact through their stormier episodes, and impress with their emotional and timbral richness, if not through any particularly striking symphonic features. Naxos provides terrific sound quality, even better than its usually fine reproduction.
© Blair Sanderson, All Music Guide
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