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Cat. No. CHAN 10406 Price: £10.5 No. of discs: 1
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CHAN 10406 - Williamson: Orchestral Works, Volume 2
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Available From: 01 February 2007
Chandos is now engaged in an important recording project devoted to a comprehensive survey of the orchestral works of Malcolm Williamson, and this second release further helps to restore the reputation of the late Master of the Queen’s Music. As International Record Review stated on the release of volume 1: ‘he [Williamson] is a rather special composer.’ He had a gift for composing memorable tunes and readily adopted elements of popular style, as demonstrated by the works on this disc, several of which have the potential to become repertoire works.

Arriving in London in 1950, Williamson suddenly discovered a new world of music – the emerging serial avant garde and the music of Messiaen – of which he had previously been ignorant. He embraced these new styles; however, he did not forget his love of popular music and jazz, which ensured he encompassed popular elements, both rhythmic and melodic. The two numbered symphonies both show the influence of Messiaen in the modal character of their material. The title Elevamini of his Symphony No.1 is a quotation from Psalm 24, and the symphony is a programmatic work, honouring the memory of his grandmother, that follows the progress of a soul, using a tone-row, and beginning with a beautiful mystical meditation of strings alone. Symphony No.5 Aquerò is a one-movement work, first performed in 1980 and receiving its first recording with this release. The composer wrote that the symphony ‘is a broadly developing drama of ideas’ and went on to point out various programmatic elements. Its title and the brief annotations that appear at intervals throughout the score make clear that this is in effect a symphonic poem on the life of Saint Bernadette.

Completing the disc are two shorter orchestral works, Lento for Strings – a touching elegiac tune for strings, written in 1985 and dedicated to the Australian comedian Paul McDermott - and Epitaphs for Edith Sitwell. Williamson had warm memories of Edith Sitwell and he needed little encouragement to reminisce about her at length. His first memorial work for her had been his Violin Concerto, and these two short pieces are based on a phrase from the slow movement of the concerto.

This second volume, of works spanning thirty years of compositional activity, demonstrates the eclectic quality of the music of Williamson, a composer who was able to absorb many influences without losing his own essential voice, and is an excellent follow-up to volume one.

Williamson has had a curious career, with plenty of good luck until the Master of the Queen’s music appointment administered the kiss of death. Yet his talent didn’t run out: the cogent Fifth Symphony of the late 1970s now satisfies more than the wobbly First. All pieces here are memorials; the two for strings are especially touching. Spirited performances from Gamba and his Iceland Symphony Orchestra.
The Times

Rumon Gamba’s direction of the Iceland Symphony is superb, as is the shape and conviction of all these interpretations. The sound is vibrant and clear.
American Record Guide

‘The music here is really quite wonderful and is played with palpable affection and devotion and is recorded with clarity and dynamism…. This release confirms him as a rather special composer.
International Record Review on Volume One

I enthusiastically reviewed the first volume of Chandos’s series of orchestral works by Malcolm Williamson in May 2006 and since then the disc has been much played. I anticipate that this successor will also be returned to often. Although Williamson’s music is on the periphery of the repertoire, it is increasingly difficult to fathom why such a fine and distinctive corpus of work should be so neglected…These excellent performances, captured in vivid and glowing sound, are further reason to celebrate the renaissance of Malcolm Williamson. Volume 3 is keenly anticipated.
International Record Review

Rumon Gamba maintains the devoted advocacy he demonstrated in volume 1, and his Iceland Symphony Orchestra copes manfully with Williamson’s often tricky choral writing. The strings are impressive in the Solemn Epitaphs for Edith Sitwell and the melodious Lento, which sounds like an offcut from a disc of light music in this rather austere context.
BBC Music Magazine

Gamba, who is the Iceland Symphony’s music director, elicits glowing as well as dramatic readings that will undoubtedly help to renew Williamson’s currently marginalized standing. A deeply sustaining release which fills out another important facet of 20th-century English repertoire.

The four works recorded here once again demonstrate that the talented Sydney-born Williamson ill deserved the critical cold-shouldering he had to endure during the last two decades of his life.


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