Robert Still Symphonies 3 & 4

London Symphony Orchestra, Sir Eugene Goossens
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Myer Fredman
Humphrey Searl
Symphony 2
London Philharmonic Orchestra, Josef Krips

Label: Lyrita
Copyright: 2009 Wyastone Estate Limited.
Catalogue number: SRCD.285
UPC/EAN: 5020926028525
Format: CD
Analogue / Digital recording: ADD
Number of discs: 1
Total playing time: 69.22
Price: £ 14.99 (+ postage & packing)

The Still Third Symphony has never sounded better than this. The Symphony, for all of its mercurial mood and tempo changes, comes across as much more convincing than ever before. The first movement rattles with energy, sounding at one moment like earlyish Rawsthorne, like RVW's London Symphony and at other times catching something of the Nordic symphonic Bax. The repose of the big Largo smiles indulgently. It's a beautifully structured and resolved piece of orchestral writing and not at all dissonant. The final Moderato is licked with flames though not as wild as those that convulse Alwyn's Fourth. Those last galloping side-drum punched bars suggest some acquaintance with the Shostakovich war-time symphonies.

Much has been made of the psychological case-study that appears to have inspired the single movement Still Fourth Symphony. Still - in this strong succinct work - tersely draws the lines between himself and the twelve tone composers of the time. They were riding a cresting wave. His star was hitched to an increasingly unfashionable tonality. The music is riven with torment, excitingly painted in, but there is again too an almost Russian triumph at 18:00 onwards.

The Third is a very fine work here superbly prepared and advocated by Goossens who at the time had only a handful of months to live. It must be amongst his last recordings. The Fredman/RPO Fourth is hardly less vital.

By contrast the Searle work is dissonant but by no means extreme and certainly presenting no enduring obstacles to communication with his listeners. He was an unashamed serialist who had no truck with English pastoralism. His world was that of Schoenberg but with romantic proclivities as can be heard in his Aubade and elsewhere. The three movement Second Symphony tends towards doom and fantasy but also packs an epic punch as in the eloquent release of tension in the string theme at 5.03 (tr.6). The finale has some rushing impetuous massed string writing that parallels that in the much later Alwyn Symphony No. 5 Hydriotaphia. Tightly bouncing little woodwind figures more than glance towards Malcolm Arnold and his Fifth and Sixth Symphonies. The slamming brutality of the finale is superbly done. One can only admire Searle's ineluctable way with this piece.

This fine CD enables us to get to grips again with Searle’s tough yet communicative Second and Still’s splendid Third and Fourth. They are heard in the best sound they have ever enjoyed.

Rob Barnett