William Alwyn: the East Anglian composer who wasn’t Britten and suffered the comparison

“Given by the Prometheus Orchestra, a local ensemble conducted by Edmond Fivet, the concert packaged forgotten scores by Alwyn around new ones by living composers sympathetic to his kind of writing – which was pastoral, tonally melodic and, above all, English (or, in the case of a set of serviceable dances that opened the programme, Scottish).”

Michael White, The Telegraph October 9 2012

The William Alwyn Festival
7 October 2012

“The Prometheus Orchestra, under very experienced guidance of founder Edmond Fivet, performed works by Alwyn, David Matthews, Christopher Wright, Elis Pehkonen and that great composer of Scottish folk songs, Beethoven! Alwyn’s Suite of Scottish Dances rivals Arnold’s much better known Scottish Dances and his beautiful Pastoral Fantasia for Viola and Strings was performed by Sarah-Jane Bradley who knows this work intimately through playing and recording it over many years.

The (brand new) world premiere was Romanza Op 119 for violin and string Orchestra by David Matthews. This was commissioned and played by Madeleine Mitchell in her inimitable and utterly musical way. Despite its “warm” title Matthews does not seek nostalgia in his sound world. It seems to me there is more kinship with Ravel’s La Valse than, say, Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending in portraying a darker, less ethereal vision of our modern landscape whether it be a literal one or in the mind. By introducing a waltz melody in the middle section he evokes a moment of happiness before returning to the deeper feelings heard at the opening. This new Romanza can be judged a vibrant and beautiful addition to the very surprisingly small repertoire for violin and strings in English music.

For a contrasted view we heard, to quote the composer, Christopher Wright’s own words “A shameless piece of old fashioned Englishness, understated, reserved and pastoral” in his short but effective Idyll. Despite it s backward glance at seemingly happier times this contained legitimate sentiment rather than sentimentality.

The other, belated world premiere was the incidental music Alwyn wrote for the film Green Girdle (shown earlier in the Festival). It would have been nice to have seen the film with this live performance, as the old soundtrack was poor. But we heard that gorgeous tune again!

Twilight and Evening Bell by Elis Pehkonen has a quasi religious tone supported by the addition of medieval bells and various recorders, played by John Turner. It is, perhaps, a kindred work to Cantus in memory of Benjamin Britten by Arvo Pärt. It made a fine impression in this setting.

Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony was dispatched with urgency and some panache by Fivet and his lively orchestra.”

Edward Clark, The Scotsman