Leighton: Symphony No. 1, Op. 42

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LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Symphony No. 1, Op. 42; Piano Concerto No. 3 (Concerto Estivo) Howard Shelley (piano); BBC National
PERFORMER: Orchestra of Wales/Martyn Brabbins


Chandos’s ongoing attention to Kenneth Leighton’s music is proving to be more satisfying than many an exercise in recorded completism. It’s true that in the First Symphony, completed in 1964, the influence of Shostakovich is very apparent, and also that of Sibelius.

That said, and given that Leighton’s natural style was less than radical, what more fruitful examples could there be? And besides, English music is not so rich in impressively strong symphonists as to be in a position to put them down for not being Shostakovich or Sibelius.

The two slow outer movements of the First Symphony deploy long paragraphs of spare and powerful part-writing, sustained at a remarkable level of intensity. And if the rather heavy-footed central scherzo seems less convincing, it’s effective in context.

The Concerto Estivo (Summer Concerto) was premiered in 1970, with Leighton playing the solo part. Sturdiness again dominates here over finesse, although the slow movement’s Messiaen-like evocation of massed birdsong is a moment of likeable contrast. There’s much fine material elsewhere too, like the piano’s opening idea, which later becomes the basis of the finale’s set of variations.


I’m sure Leighton would have been delighted with both performances, which are consistently excellent in every department. Malcolm Hayes