MALCOLM WILLIAMSON Orchestral Works Vol. 1 – Santiago de Espada Overture; Suite from “Our Man in Havana;” Concerto grosso; Sinfonietta – Iceland Symphony Orchestra/ Rumon Gamba – Chandos

by | Jun 10, 2006 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

MALCOLM WILLIAMSON Orchestral Works Vol. 1  – Santiago de Espada Overture; Suite from “Our Man in Havana;” Concerto grosso; Sinfonietta – Iceland Symphony Orchestra/ Rumon Gamba – Chandos CHAN 10359, 57:13 ****:

I was going to include this in my upcoming survey of soundtracks, but what I had thought was the music for a film in this collection was only one of four selections.  Then I was surprised to learn that this is not music for the 1959 Carol Reed/Alec Guiness film, but rather a suite from an opera by Malcolm Williamson based on the same book by Graham Greene.  Australian composer Williamson, who died in 2003, has not been heard a great deal in the last couple of decades – and even less so in the U.S. vs. his residence in the UK. He studied with Messiaen and Boulez, but his huge output was not all serialized, and he demonstrated a fondness for lyrical melody. Williamson wrote – among other works – six ballets, nine operas, seven symphonies and four piano concertos.

His short overture which opens the program is considered Australia’s answer to Bernstein’s Candide Overture. It’s brimming with jazzy tunes. Both the suite from his Havana opera and the following Concerto grosso receive premiere recordings on this disc. The suite has five movements and opens with several Cuban dances and songs. As with the motion picture version, Williamson had to balance grimmer music for dramatic portions of the opera – about a vacuum cleaner salesman in pre-Castro Cuba who becomes an unwilling British agent – with lighter music for humorous sections. The Sinfonietta of 1965 has four movements, and much of it was used by the Royal Ballet for a ballet.  The work’s Tarantella movement may be a tribute to Malcolm Arnold because it sounds so much like music of that better-known composer. Thanks to Chandos for expanding our appreciation of this fine composer’s work which will probably be new to most listeners. Excellent sonics, as par for Chandos.

 – John Sunier

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