Classical CD Reviews
ALAN RAWSTHORNE: Practical Cats; Street Corner Overture; Madame Chrysantheme Ballet Suite; Theme, Variations & Finale; Medieval Diptych for baritone & orchestra; Coronation Overture – Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/David Lloyd-Jones – Dutton
Published on May 26, 2008
Rawsthorne, who lived until 1971, was a composer with a distinctive voice whose output include 27 film scores and incidental music for the BBC. He had the cliched English qualities of understatement and laconic wit, and his creative integrity ensured that he could buck current musical fashions if he wished. His last three works on this program are world premiere recordings. The Liverpool musicians are very familiar with his music and the excellent recording was made in their home venue, Philharmonic Hall in Liverpool.
Rawsthorne wrote Practical Cats, subtitled “An entertainment for speaker and orchestra,” for a children’s concert at the Edinburgh Festival in 1954. He chose six of the poems from T.S. Eliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.” The settings are varied depending on the personality of the particular cat being described. The score for Gus the Theatre Cat is based on musical clichés and phrases which were part of Gus’ onstage performances. A sort of lullaby fits Old Deuteronomy, and a jig-like rhythm is used for the closing Song of the Jellicles to communicate their festive mood. British actor and writer Simon Callow handles the poetry reading with aplomb.
The Theme, Variations & Finale was commissioned for a youth orchestra and uses variation form, which was a favorite type of construction for Rawsthorne. Medieval Diptych is the composer’s only work for solo voice and orchestra. Both of its texts are concerned with the Virgin Mary and are pictorially evocative. Some aspects of serial technique are used in this work, but not in a rigorous fashion. The two overtures bookend the program – the first light and nostalgic, from an Army commission during WWII – the second a contrast to most coronation music in being rather serious and low key.
– John Sunier