Williamson: Our Man in Havana Suite; Sinfonietta; Concerto grosso; Santiago de Espada

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COMPOSERS: Williamson
LABELS: Chandos
ALBUM TITLE: Williamson
WORKS: Our Man in Havana Suite; Sinfonietta; Concerto grosso; Santiago de Espada
PERFORMER: Iceland SO/Rumon Gamba
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 10359
The Australian-born Malcolm Williamson, whose term of office as Master of the Queen’s Music was blighted by a long illness before his death in 2003, probably hit his best form in opera. For example, his 1963 Our Man in Havana, based on Graham Greene’s novel, features memorable tunes, vivid Caribbean local colour and a subtle blending of comedy and tragedy. All these qualities are reflected in the Suite which he adapted freely from the opera, and this, in what’s surprisingly its first recording, is the outstanding work on volume 1 of Chandos’s Williamson series.

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The more abstract pieces are less successful, both the Concerto Grosso of 1965 and the Sinfonietta of the same year including stretches of what seems pretty arid pattern-making – though the Sinfonietta also contains an Elegy with a fiercely emotional climax. Both works have some awkward and exposed string writing which clearly puts the spirited Iceland Symphony players under a bit of strain. And by the company’s high standards the recording seems unusually confined, without much bloom on violins or wind solos. But Gamba’s sympathetic advocacy of Williamson’s music makes one look forward to further instalments. Anthony Burton