Williamson: Orchestral Works, Vol. 2: Elevamini (A Symphony); Epitaphs for Edith Sitwell; Symphony No. 1 (Aquerò); Lento for strings

COMPOSERS: Williamson
LABELS: Chandos
ALBUM TITLE: Williamson
WORKS: Orchestral Works, Vol. 2: Elevamini (A Symphony); Epitaphs for Edith Sitwell; Symphony No. 1 (Aquerò); Lento for strings
PERFORMER: Iceland SO/Rumon Gamba
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 10406
The second instalment of Chandos’s series of Malcolm Williamson’s orchestral music takes us into his little known symphonic output, with two works inspired in literal terms by his Catholic beliefs. The First Symphony of 1956/57 depicts the arrival of a soul in heaven, alternating between dramatic expectancy and ecstatic dancing before ending with a long-held major chord – a radical gesture for a young composer at that time. The Fifth of 1979/80 is a symphonic poem on the life of St Bernadette, infused with plainchant throughout a single 24-minute movement in a constant 5/8 time and a constant tempo, though the textures are still inventively varied. Despite occasional echoes of Messiaen and Copland, this is music of obstinate individuality, by a composer who seems to have reinvented his language and methods with every piece.

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Rumon Gamba maintains the devoted advocacy he demonstrated in volume 1, and his Iceland Symphony Orchestra – recorded this time with a better sense of space and perspective – copes manfully with Williamson’s often tricky orchestral 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. Anthony Burton