Moeran: Symphony in G minor; Sinfonietta

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COMPOSERS: Moeran
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Symphony in G minor; Sinfonietta
PERFORMER: Bournemouth SO/David Lloyd-Jones
CATALOGUE NO: 8.555837
Moeran sometimes needed a strong model to get his compositional juices flowing, such as Sibelius in the Symphony and Walton in the Sinfonietta. It’s fun to hear which parts of the former are Tapiola on the Norfolk Broads, and which of the latter are Portsmouth-pointed. But Walton himself needed Sibelius by his elbow when he came to write his First Symphony, and Moeran’s voice remains an individual one. Living as he did, with a metal plate in his skull as a constant reminder of near-fatal war wounds, it’s a miracle he wrote pieces as strong as these – enlivening, evocative, defiant against depressive undertow. They are not perfect works – Moeran was a composer burdened with more than his fair share of stylistic and creative problems – but they are nevertheless classics of the British orchestral repertoire that deserve more performances than they get. The excellence of the Symphony’s material, its moments of exultation and East Anglian melancholy (anticipating Peter Grimes), the sweep and inventiveness of the Sinfonietta’s magnificent central variation movement – these are not eroded by time.

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David Lloyd-Jones and the Bournemouth SO maintain the excellent standard of their Bax orchestral series for Naxos (will they now give us Moeran’s concertos, the Serenade, the Rhapsodies?) but these two works have generally been fortunate in their few previous recordings. The Symphony’s debut on 78rpm under Leslie Heward, 60 years ago, remains unsurpassed for intensity and the sound remains astonishingly fine; Vernon Handley (Chandos) remains a good hi-fi alternative. Boult’s magisterial Lyrita account of the Sinfonietta is now sadly unavailable, but Hickox (EMI) and Del Mar (Chandos) are highly competitive. Calum MacDonald