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Symphony No. 1 (1940)
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Symphony No. 1 (1940)
1st Movement: Allegro moderato
2nd Movement: Allegretto
3rd Movement: Lento
4th Movement: Allegro
The Symphony No 1 was completed in 1940 and received its first performance at a Promenade Concert in 1943 under the direction of the composer.
The first movement of Symphony No 1 is in a sonato-allegro design: the first notes of the unison strings form the first subject. The tonal centre of the movement, and the work as a whole is C. But this can hardly be claimed as major, since a minor third is prominent in the first subject and the music reflects foreboding, although it soon turns to elation. Soon after the quiet opening this range of subject matter is apparent. Although tunes are varied in reappearances there are two more to notice: one a falling phrase sustained in the strings and the other an oboe solo beginning with a dotted rhythm, rising. The development section proliferates lyrically with the outlines of the first subject often clear, although the sustained string melody brings the climax. The recapitulation refers to the opening of the movement but soon becomes obsessed with the dotted rhythm of the oboe melody and it is this which brings about a quiet cadence on a chord of C major. The diverse fragments of the exuberant opening have become focussed.
This sets the stage for the Allegretto, a gentle waltz with three main themes in the context of a regular pulse supported by groups of instruments in turn. The first theme is heard right away on oboe, then flute, the second follows immediately in the strings, taken up by violas then rising through the section to build a polyphonic texture for a moment; the third theme is in violas and bassoons, with violin tracery above and the regular pulse now transferred to the timpani. This pattern is repeated for the second half of the movement still characterised by scoring in pastel shades. The first two themes are decoratively static, but the third one builds to a climax on each occasion.
The Lento is intense; like the equivalent movement in the Second Symphony it uses Cor Anglais. Its textures are more spare than anything yet heard and pauses and outbursts rupture continuity. Its uneasy opening dotted figure centres on C sharp, remote from the C natural of the outside movements. This dotted figure, rather like a grace-note connects with the oboe theme in the first movement and now, in a moer optimistic vein, enlivens the rondo finale. The main theme here comes at once and the first two bars might have been written by Haydn or Mozart – an impression reinforced by the unison scoring of C with brass or timpani. The episodes are freely developed and the contrasting theme based on the interval of a fourth obstinately refuses to appear the same way twice, although its jocular intentions are the same. The 4/4 of the finale is telescoped into 6/8 for the coda and a lively ending.
Discography - Symphony No. 1
London Philharmonic Orchestra
G Beckett and B McDonald, pianos
Norman Del Mar
BBC National Orchestra of Wales
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