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Cat. No. CHAN 10461 Price: £10.5 No. of discs: 1
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CHAN 10461 - Leighton: Orchestral Works, Volume 1
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Available From: 01 May 2008
One of the most distinguished post-war British composers, and most frequently performed both in the UK and abroad, Kenneth Leighton wrote music that maintains a compelling balance between the romantic tradition and early serialism. His lyrical and colourfully orchestrated works not only suggest a lively if often dark imagination, but also demonstrate a scope explored by remarkably few of his countrymen. Richard Hickox and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales here present the first of two CDs devoted to orchestral works by Leighton.

The medium of the string orchestra proved significant for Leighton throughout his life, featuring in a number of important works. The three works in this first volume, each scored for string orchestra, represent a fitting resumé of his musical development, complementing one of his earliest student works, the Symphony for Strings, with two of his more mature ones. The Symphony for Strings was taken up and premiered by Gerald Finzi and his Newbury String Players whilst Leighton was still a student. The first major work by the composer for these forces, it proved a considerable success and sparked a friendship between the two composers which was to last until Finzi’s untimely death. The symphony is youthful and fresh in outlook, concerned with the coming of spring. The English music of Ralph Vaughan Williams, William Walton and Finzi himself exert a key influence. Twelve years passed before the composition of the Concerto for String Orchestra. This gap represented a considerable advance in the development of his musical language and style, Leighton becoming exposed to the works of both neoclassical composers and members of the Second Viennese School, but he still retained the lyrical instinct of his earlier years.

Completing the disc is one of Leighton’s most enduring orchestral works, the Concerto for Organ, String Orchestra and Timpani. Growing up in the West Yorkshire town of Wakefield, Leighton gained some of his earliest musical inspiration as a chorister at Wakefield Cathedral, where he also discovered the possibilities of the organ. Today Leighton is renowned as a composer of organ and church music, despite writing just eleven works for the instrument. The soloist in this recording is the internationally renowned concert organist John Scott, particularly acclaimed for his performances of works by twentieth-century composers. Scott too began his career as a chorister at Wakefield Cathedral. A former choir director of St Paul’s Cathedral, he now holds the post of Organist and Director of Music at St Thomas Church, Fifth Avenue in New York.

Hickox and the BBC NOW likewise do full justice to the Concerto for String Orchestra that Leighton completed in September 1961… Music as absorbing, humane and emotionally charged as this deserves a regular place in the repertory, an observation which extends to the magnificent Organ Concerto that Leighton wrote in 1970, prior to his appointment as Reid Professor at Edinburgh University. The instrumentation mirrors that of Poulenc’s 1938 Concerto and Leighton’s resplendent score exhibits a similar cumulative impact and communicative élan. John Scott acquits himself with distinction and receives glowing support from Hickox and company. Chandos’ gorgeously ripe sound and superbly judged balance add further lustre to what is a terrific disc. I can hardly wait for the second instalment.

Needless to say , Hickox, with the assistance of Chandos’ expanded acoustic, easily improves upon the earlier recordings, offering much more clarity and insight into Leighton’s sedulous and deliberate knitting together of motifs while suffusing the whole with a high degree of tension, intensity, and even an atmosphere of fatalism

The latter work [Organ Concerto], especially, is a powerful and passionate utterance that displays Leighton as one of the most substantial musical thinkers of his generation. John Scott is a first-rate soloist in this taxing work and Richard Hickox directs superbly paced and eloquent performances of this fine music.
BBC Music Magazine

Leighton’s Concerto for organ strings and Timpani is a grand solemn creation and should be of special interest to devotees of Poulenc’s work for the same forces. Though probing and deeply serious it has a dignity, monumentality and fervency lacking in Leighton’s Concerto for strings that will likely make it more approachable and engaging for most listeners… This finale, combining a slowly but inevitably growing barrage of sound with the mystery, sonorous weight, and liturgical authority of the organ, is the most impressive – and to me the most moving – music here. It certainly comes through with imposing majesty in Chandos’ potent recording
American Record Guide

All in all it is a revelatory and superbly played disc.
The Telegraph

Chandos, Hickox and the BBC NOW are to be congratulated on their welcome initiative, and I for one will look forward with great interest to the succeeding volumes of this most promising series
International Record Review


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