WORKS: Creation Symphony; Pelléas and Mélisande Suite; Prelude to The Eumenides
PERFORMER: BBC Scottish SO/Martyn Brabbins
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 66987
Hyperion broke new ground in 1995 with the first recording of three symphonic poems by William Wallace. Now it does so again with his Creation Symphony, a noble and sophisticated attempt at a musical portrait of the first chapter of Genesis. Wallace – not to be confused with the Scottish national hero of Braveheart fame – was a compatriot of MacCunn, McEwan and Mackenzie, and shares with them the misfortune of being largely ignored by posterity. Although he was an exact contemporary of Mahler, Wallace’s music is closer to the high-flown Romanticism of Wagner or Liszt, with themes that are robust, thoroughly worked over, and cloaked in luscious chromatic harmonies.
Given that this fifty-minute symphony is an unknown work written for large forces, the BBC Scottish SO makes a fine, convincing noise. The music has many glorious details contained within a grand architectural design, but to my mind it is defeated by a sense of righteousness and introspection. This is not intended to be picturesque music but even so its solemn self-absorption is rather tedious.
The Prelude to The Eumenides and the Pelléas Suite, like the symphonic poems on the earlier disc, have a more open, descriptive character that avoids this pitfall. The level of craftsmanship is just as high, and the performances are superb, but there is a much greater sense that Wallace is enjoying himself. Christopher Lambton