Review By Hecht,American Record Guide,June 2007
This is a nice collection of lighter orchestral works by the British symphonist, William Alwyn. It begins with Elizabethan Dances, which he wrote for the BBC's Light Music Festival in 1957. The six-movement suite alternates between the dance styles of the periods presided over by the two British Elizabeths. First comes Elizabeth I, with a Moderato e Ritmico suggestive of a dance of pipes and tabors. Next is a haunting, dreamy waltz – more visions and images than an actual dance. Allegro Scherzando is a Morris Dance that sometimes seems unsure which Elizabeth it belongs to. The bluesy Moderato could have been written for an evening movie scene in a large modern city. More than any other piece here, it reminds us that Alwyn was an active composer for
The Concerto for Oboe, Harp, and Strings contains two movements. Andante e Rubato is a pastorale, with the oboe singing like a shepherd in a manner typical of English Impressionism. The sleek Vivace is a lightly vigorous, urbane, and catchy dance, with the oboe darting about like a firefly. Before the end, Alwyn adds a bit of intensity, then relaxes at what sounds like the descent of night.
Symphonic Prelude – The Magic Island (1952), drawn from Shakespeare's Tempest on a commission from John Barbirolli, comes closest among these works to Alwyn's symphonic style, though it is not as bold. The work is clearly suggestive of the sea, with uneasy and supernatural overtones. A quote from Tempest describes it well: “… the Isle is full of noises", including the lapping of waves, distant Sirens from across the sea, winds, and suggestions of approaching storms.
Several of Alwyn's works were inspired by the poetry of William Blake. One was Innumerable Dance – An English Overture (1933), a sprightly tone poem devoted to spring. It is a fresh, upbeat work, strong in the influence of Holst, Vaughan Williams, Delius, and Frank Bridge's Enter Spring, along with suggestions in the climaxes of what was to come from the mature Alwyn. (Alwyn also set Part I of Blake's Marriage of Heaven' and Hell for soloists, chorus and orchestra. I suspect I would prefer it to the setting by William Bolcom and beg Chandos or Naxos to record it.)
Aphrodite in Aulis – an Eclogue for Small Orchestra (1932) is based on the eponymous novel by George Moore about a sculptor looking for a woman on whom to model a sculpture of Aphrodite. This short synthesis of Delius and Vaughan Williams quietly and reflectively describes the beauty of Aphrodite.
Alwyn applied the march style of Elgar and (especially) Walton to Festival March, though Alwyn's touch is lighter, more sprightly, and less grand and martial. He wrote the piece for the 1951 Festival of Britain.
The first four works (as listed in the heading) are available as couplings on different Chandos releases led by Richard Hickox. Symphonic Prelude was also recorded by the composer on Lyrita. The last two are recorded here for the first time. Not only is this a fine collection for those who have collected the Naxos series of Alwyn's symphonies; but I actually prefer Lloyd-Jones’s light, subtle touch, and Naxos’s comparable sound, in these particular pieces to the heavier approach of Hickox and Chandos. Throw in two previously unavailable works, and you have something that anyone interested in Alwyn or British music in general should have.
Review By David Hurwitz,ClassicsToday.com,April 2007
William Alwyn's Elizabethan Dances cleverly alternates music evocative of Tudor and modern times, recalling the reigns of both Queen Elizabeths. It's a work that deserves to be popular, as does all of this music. The Concerto for Oboe, Harp, and Strings is wholly lovely, while the shorter works reveal Alwyn's typically high level of craftsmanship, discerning use of orchestral color, and ability to spin out a good tune. Two of the pieces, The Innumerable Dance and Aphrodite in Aulis, are receiving their premiere recordings, but all of the performances are excellent and fully comparable to the best of the (admittedly sparse) competition. If you've been collecting Naxos' excellent Alwyn cycle, you can purchase this latest release without hesitation, particularly as the sound is as warm