STILL: Symphony No. 3 (1960); Symphony No. 4 (1964); SEARLE: Symphony No. 2, Op. 33 (1958) – London Symphony Orchestra/Sir Eugene Goossens/Royal Philharmonic/Myer Fredman (Still 4th Symphony)/London Philharmonic Orchestra/Josef Krips (Searle)
Lyrita SRCD 285, 69:22 [Distr. by Allegro] ****:
Robert Still (1910-1971) represented a lyrical, conservative voice in British music-making, and his Third Symphony–dedicated to Sir Eugene Goossens (1893-1962)–had its premier at Royal Festival Hall under Goossens 30 March 1962. Brassy and elegiac at once, the first movement asks for tambourine and snare drum effects and percussive punctuations that interrupt a slow lyrical section introduced by oboe and clarinet. The music proceeds tonally, much in the manner of Vaughan Williams and Moeran, although the constant march figures suggest a more Teutonic influence. The motifs are short, repeated, insistent and rather somber. The extended Largo is rather special: an Elgar-like string serenade opens the movement, though the mood soon darkens in the woodwinds, and muted trombone and trumpet figures presage a shift into the major mode. Some gorgeous string tone from the LSO testifies to their response to Goossens, whose last appearance before an orchestra this might well have been. The last movement, Moderato, responds to the “program” of impending world conflict Still suggested for this music, a kind of bright martial message to resist the onslaughts of tyrants.
The one-movement 1964 Fourth Symphony finds its basis in a case history of psychosis and feelings of persecution. Myer Fredman (b. 1932) led this performance 6 January 1970. In its treatment of mental throes, anguish, struggles, and resignation, the piece bears a vague similarity to the Richard Strauss Death and Transfiguration. The orchestration proves a rich diverse broth of brass, tympani, cymbals, harp, and busy strings, the trumpets asked for triple-tonguing and virtuoso riffs. Structurally, the music alternates between dazzling scherzo and haunted passacaglia. The more intense sections echo the Shostakovich wartime sensibility.
Humphrey Searle (1915-1982) was among the first British composers to employ Schoenberg’s 12-tone system in his own works. The 1958 Symphony No. 2 is dedicated to the composer’s first wife, Lesley, who died from cancer Christmas Day 1957. Josef Krips (1902-1974) leads a powerful reading of the work (18 September 1973), which despite its atonal leanings, manages to center itself around D. Driving rhythms and syncopated high strings make for some colorful listening. An eerie lyricism makes its way through the first movement, made only more poignant by its contrast with the more trenchant figures. Searle presents us a deeply lyrical Lento within the harmonic means allotted him, the violins expressive over ominous brass and tympani. The atmosphere of Bartok’s night music pieces seems nigh. The martial last movement, blustery and percussive, develops materials from the first movement, again centering on D. The energies become quite manic, though the coda brings back the Lento’s violin melody. More than once, the crackling momentum had me thinking of Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements as a possible precursor.