Symphony in G Minor R71

There are four reviews of Symphony recordings in the Gramofile records on the net since 1983, of which only the Chandos disc is currently in print. However, copies of the previous releases may still be tracked down. Note that the two reviews of the Heward recording refer to two difference transfers, before and after the introduction of digital restoration technology.

Chandos CD CHAN85770
(Ulster Orchestra/ Handley)
Published April 1988

With all its echoes of Sibelius and Vaughan Williams (even, in the finale, of Elgar), its fondness for atmospheric episodes and its not-quite-symphonic form (a cruelly severe musical surgeon could probably chop a couple of minutes from each of its movements; the main meat of the opening Allegro is not so much a development of its material as a fantasia based primarily on its first subject group), Moeran's Symphony ought to have faded long ago. This performance proves that it has not, and suggests that its enduring strength lies not in its rich lyricism, nor its vivid land- and seascape imagery but in the tense anxiety that often disrupts them from beneath the surface.

It is a First Symphony by a composer in his forties who had not written a major orchestral work before, and was rather unsure of his ability to write this one (it took him a decade to complete). It is a flawed work, its recourses to Sibelian models are at times almost blatant, its changes of direction can seem random, but in a good performance (and this is a very good one) the violently abrupt closing chords of the finale sound like a culmination of those many earlier moments of shadow, unease or apprehension, which can now be seen as far more essential than the warm richness of the first movement's 'second subject' (deliberately under-used?) or the Irish jig that seemed intended as the main matter of the finale itself (and besides, what a very preoccupied jig it is). The Symphony is closer to school-of-Bax than to school-of-Vaughan Williams, in fact, despite a franker use of folk-inspired or directly folk-derived material than was generally Bax's practice, and it is a Baxian disquiet that gives the work its urgency.



HMV LP ED290187-1
English Sinfonia/Dilkes
Published December 1984

At the time of the writing of this symphony the more familiar of Moeran's music (the Norturne, the Songs of Springtime) was lyric, nostalgic, delighting those listeners who enjoyed 'evocations of the English countryside', and arousing rather less interest among those who did not. New worlds, for the composer, were disclosed by the symphony's first performance in 1938: here was a new, powerful symphonic voice, and it was not for nothing that in 1942 the symphony was chosen for the first British Council supported record (beating Belshazzar's Feast, no less, to the post). I do not think I ever heard those early Moeran records (Halle/Heward—HMV C3319/24, 1/43) at the time—though WRA's review of them fell out of my score just now. I do know, though, that the newer recording now reissued expounds the symphony's breadth of vision quite marvellously: an electrifying performance, recorded in an electrifying quality of richness and clarity. Not quite of balance, the woodwind sometimes having difficulty in projecting their solos.

This last detail is not the case at all in the two short pieces, I think with (very properly) fewer strings used. These were among the Moeran music of the 1930's familiar to the original enthusiasts; newer listeners will readily see how unprepared earlier audiences were for the symphony. But Moeran's older and newer listeners alike must now rate this issue an entirely treasurable one.


HMV LP EM290462-3
Hallé Orch/Heward
Published August 1985

Heward had directed the first performance of the Moeran Symphony in 1938 and for years later the work was chosen by the British Council for its first venture into the sponsorship of recordings. Moeran himself attended the sessions and observed how ill Heward was in his last work for the gramophone, but there is no sign of any weakness in a gloriously impassioned and glowing account of the score.


Dutton Laboratories CD CDAX8001
Hallé Orch/Heward
Published May 1993

In 1942 the British Council decided to sponsor recordings of British music, and Moeran's Symphony was the first work to be chosen. Leslie Heward had conducted the first performance in 1938, but at the age of 45 he was now mortally ill with tuberculosis, and time was running short if his authoritative interpretation was to be preserved. At the autumn recording sessions in Manchester both Moeran and the producer Walter Legge were alarmed by Heward's poor physical condition, but somehow he fought off pain and fatigue to create a performance which deeply impressed the composer. It became the most important recording left by a highly sensitive musician of whom Sir Adrian Boult wrote, "There was no one to touch him, in my opinion; he'd have gone a long way, if he had lived." Legge also admired Heward greatly, describing him as "musically speaking, the most satisfying conductor this country has had since Beecham".

It scarcely needs me to add that here is a wonderfully vital and heartfelt performance of a fine symphony. Large-scale recordings had retreated to the provinces in the face of the enemy bombing of London, and whilst it is true that the Halle were no longer quite the body they had been under Harty, they played their hearts out for Heward. The original recording was dry and lacking in range: EMI's own LP transfer (8/85—nla) was very serviceable, but Michael Dutton has opened up the sound in a remarkable fashion. There is now increased tonal depth, more warmth in the strings and a new solidity in the bass. Here is a case of new technology being put to very best artistic use.


All reviews ©Gramophone Magazine, Haymarket Publishing

©2011 The Worldwide Moeran Database



...tense anxiety that often disrupts from beneath the surface...



...It scarcely needs me to add that here is a wonderfully vital and heartfelt performance of a fine symphony... electrifying performance, recorded in an electrifying quality of richness and clarity...