A1001-CD: Elizabethan Dances

ALWYN: Concerto for Oboe, Harp and Strings
Elizabethan Dances / The Innumerable Dance

CD Cover: Elizabethan DancesThis fifth volume in the Naxos cycle of the complete orchestral works of William Alwyn features the popular Elizabethan Dances, which contrast ancient and modern dance rhythms from the courts of Elizabeth I and Elizabeth II. The atmospheric Symphonic Prelude “The Magic Island” was inspired by Shakespeare’s The Tempest. A perfect evocation of Spring, The Innumerable Dance is a tone poem in all but name. This and the exquisite miniature Aphrodite in Aulis have not been heard for over 70 years, and here receive their first recording. Composed during World War II, the Oboe Concerto expresses the composer’s yearning the peace and beauty of the English countryside.

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Track Listings & Audio Samples

Elizabethan Dances
No. 1. Moderato e ritmico
No. 2. Waltz tempo - languidamente
No. 3. Allegro scherzando (ma non troppo allegro)
No. 4. Moderato
No. 5. Poco allegretto e semplice
No. 6. Allegro giocoso
07 The Innumerable Dance - An English Overture
Concerto for Oboe, Harp and Strings
08 I. Andante e rubato
09 II. Vivace
10 Aphrodite in Aulis - An Eclogue for small orchestra after George Moore
11 The Magic Island
12 Festival March
Total Playing Time

About this CD

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William Alwyn (1905–1985)
Elizabethan Dances • Oboe Concerto • Aphrodite in Aulis

The orchestral music of William Alwyn spans a period of fifty years from the Peter Pan Suite of 1923 to the Fifth Symphony (Hydriotaphia) of 1973 and as such forms a large and important part of his compositional output. Amongst his works in the genre are five symphonies, concertos for flute, violin, oboe, harp, piano and many descriptive shorter pieces. In addition to these are four operas, vocal, chamber and instrumental music. He was also a linguist, poet and painter. His mastery of orchestration is evident in every piece included here and in part comes as a result of an in-sider's experience. Alwyn entered the Royal Academy of Music in 1920 at the age of fifteen as a flautist (with piano a second instrument) and from 1922 was playing in the Academy orchestra and later under the baton of Sir Edward Elgar with the London Symphony Orchestra, where he gained immeasurable knowledge of the orchestra. He spent much time studying the scores of Debussy, Richard Strauss, Stravinsky, Schoenberg and Szymanowski. The latter three had been introduced to him by his composition teacher John B. McEwen (himself a composer of a large number of works) and thus opened up a new colourful world of possibilities to the young composer. Further experience was gained from his involvement with writing music for the cinema, composing some two hundred film scores between 1936 and 1963 for both documentary and feature films. Here he was able to experiment to the full on the many varied subjects presented to him for a suitable musical background to enhance the pictures' message and mood. It was the only medium in which he could see very quickly whether he had been successful in trying out some new way and or idea of scoring. A film score had to be provided fairly quickly, as it was nearly always the last process to be added before the film's release, and Alwyn threw himself into the task wholeheartedly. One week he would be composing the score to the film, the next he was able to hear the result, an event which he always looked forward to. Amongst Alwyn's film scores are some classic British films, including The Way Ahead, Desert Victory, Odd Man Out, The Fallen Idol, The History of Mr Polly, The Winslow Boy, The Rake's Progress, The Rocking Horse Winner and A Night To Remember.

Alwyn's first major work for orchestra, the brief and imaginatively scored Five Preludes, dating from 1927, were first performed the same year at the Promenade Concerts at Queen's Hall under Sir Henry Wood and started him on the road to perfecting his orchestral technique. The Elizabethan Dances date from thirty years later, composed between 1956 and 1957. Although the BBC had commissioned a work from him for their Light Music Festival of 1957, the idea for the piece had been first suggested to him by his friend and publisher Bernard de Nevers, director of Alfred Lengnick & Co Ltd. The score bears a dedication to de Nevers.

The BBC Concert Orchestra gave the première of the work at the Royal Festival Hall under the direction of the composer on 6 July 1957. Scored for a standard size orchestra with the additional percussion instruments of castanets, wood blocks, maracas and also harp and celesta, the six dances alternate the times of Elizabeth I and Elizabeth II, thus providing contrasting moods. The first dance portrays the pipes and tabors of Elizabeth I employing the full orchestra. The second is a beguiling lilting waltz with the main theme announced by the strings. The third is a Morris Dance with the main theme first stated by a solo bassoon, which is then taken up by the flute before finally being presented by the strings. The fourth is a somewhat 'bluesy' dance with the main theme announced by the violins and later presented by the full orchestra. The fifth, a quiet Pavane, suggests a consort of viols and recorders with the strings carrying the main idea embellished by flutes clarinets and harp. The sixth, employing the full orchestra, alternates between a hornpipe and rumba and brings the set to a lively and jubilant close.

The Innumerable Dance – An English Overture was completed in November 1933 and received its first broadcast performance on 8 December 1935 given by the BBC Orchestra (section C) conducted by Aylmer Buesst. A standard orchestra is employed with the addition of celesta and harp enhancing the colour of the piece. The title of the work is derived from a line of verse from the second book of William Blake's Milton. The score is prefaced with the following lines from the poem:

First e'er the morning breaks,
joy opens in the flowery bosoms,
Joy even to tears, which the suns rising dries:
first the Wild Thyme
And meadow sweet, downy and soft waving among the reeds,
Light springing in the air, lead the sweet dance;
they wake
The honeysuckle sleeping on the oak,
the flaunting beauty
Revels along upon the wind; … every tree
And flower and herb soon fill the air with an
innumerable dance,
Yet all in order sweet and lovely.

A tone poem in all but name this evocatively scored work is the perfect evocation of spring. From the hushed opening with tremolando divided strings followed by muted horns to the gradual addition of more instruments to the full orchestra once the sunrise is reached and the lively dance that follows Alwyn immediately draws you into Blake's vision of nature.

This première recording gives us the chance to hear a work that has not been heard for almost seventy years. This was not Alwyn's first work to be inspired by the poetry of William Blake as in 1931 he had made settings for voice some with the accompaniment of string quartet and others with just piano of the Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience. Also between 1933 and 1938 he worked on setting Part 1 of Blake's Marriage of Heaven and Hell for soloists, double chorus and large orchestra. The work still awaits a hearing.

The Concerto for Oboe, Harp and String Orchestra was composed in London and Welwyn between 1943 and 1944. The first performance was given by Evelyn Rothwell, the wife of John Barbirolli who was later to become such a champion of Alwyn's music, with the London Symphony Orchestra under Basil Cameron at a Promenade Concert at the Royal Albert Hall on 12 August 1949. There are two movements which follow without a break, the first pastoral and nostalgic in mood, the second a lively dance with the main idea from the first movement returning towards the end of the work.

Aphrodite in Aulis – An Eclogue for small orchestra was completed in London during June 1932. The inspiration for the work comes from the Homeric novel of the same name by the Irish writer George Moore (1852-1933), first published in 1930. Esther Waters (1894) is probably his best known novel. The story is an historical romance about two brothers, Thrasillos, an architect, and Rhesos, a sculptor, in the time of Phidias. Rhesos falls in love with a woman Earine as she has the most desirable rump suitable for his sculpture of Aphrodite. This brief exquisite miniature beautifully scored for flute, two horns, harp and strings, encapsulates the vision of Aphrodite most perfectly. Again, this is a work that has not been heard for over seventy years and is here receiving its first recording.

The Symphonic Prelude “The Magic Island” was composed in 1952 and is derived from Shakespeare's The Tempest. The Magic Island is that of Prospero, the rightful Duke of Milan. The famous verse from Act III, Scene 2 of Caliban, a savage and deformed slave, prefaces the score:

the Isle is full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not:
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears; and sometimes voices,
That if I wak'd after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again, and then in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open, and show riches
Ready to drop upon me, that when I wak'd
I cried to dream again.”

This atmospheric piece begins very quietly on murmuring strings later accompanied by harp, wind, and brass, which convey the lapping of the waves against the shore. A fragmentary melody on the cor anglais appears and is developed by the other instruments in turn. A more animated section follows and after a haunting passage on solo violin accompanied by soft wind chords and harp reaches a climax with a broad statement of the theme that has been hinted at throughout. The music dies away and ends as quietly as it began. The work was commissioned by John Barbirolli, and first performed by him with the Hallé Orchestra on 25 March 1953 at the Free Trade Hall, Manchester.

The Festival March was commissioned by the Arts Council of Great Britain for the 1951 Festival of Britain. This march is in the best English tradition of Elgar and Walton. After the opening fanfares a broad theme follows on the violins and horns, accompanied by the rest of the orchestra. After a climax on the full orchestra the music dies away to make way for the noble trio presented by unison violins and cellos. This is then repeated Grandioso by the full orchestra, after which a brief linking passage returns us to the opening march theme. This builds to a climax with the trio returning fortissimo, bringing the work to a resplendent close. The London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Sir Malcolm Sargent gave the first performance on 21 May 1951 at the Royal Festival Hall.

Andrew Peter Knowle


This is a nice collection of lighter orchestral works by the British symphonist, William Alwyn. It begins with Elizabethan Dances, which he wrote for the BBC's Light Music Festival in 1957. The six-movement suite alternates between the dance styles of the periods presided over by the two British Elizabeths. First comes Elizabeth I, with a Moderato e Ritmico suggestive of a dance of pipes and tabors. Next is a haunting, dreamy waltz – more visions and images than an actual dance. Allegro Scherzando is a Morris Dance that sometimes seems unsure which Elizabeth it belongs to. The bluesy Moderato could have been written for an evening movie scene in a large modern city. More than any other piece here, it reminds us that Alwyn was an active composer for the cinema. Poco Allegretto is a mysterious pavane that goes well with the more pastoral works. The notes say the Allegro Giocoso "alternates between a hornpipe and rumba". Those effects are vague, but it is certainly a catchy, rhythmic, slightly jazzy, and triumphant conclusion to the suite.

The Concerto for Oboe, Harp, and Strings contains two movements. Andante e Rubato is a pastorale, with the oboe singing like a shepherd in a manner typical of English Impressionism. The sleek Vivace is a lightly vigorous, urbane, and catchy dance, with the oboe darting about like a firefly. Before the end, Alwyn adds a bit of intensity, then relaxes at what sounds like the descent of night.

Symphonic Prelude – The Magic Island (1952), drawn from Shakespeare's Tempest on a commission from John Barbirolli, comes closest among these works to Alwyn's symphonic style, though it is not as bold. The work is clearly suggestive of the sea, with uneasy and supernatural overtones. A quote from Tempest describes it well: “… the Isle is full of noises", including the lapping of waves, distant Sirens from across the sea, winds, and suggestions of approaching storms.

Several of Alwyn's works were inspired by the poetry of William Blake. One was Innumerable Dance – An English Overture (1933), a sprightly tone poem devoted to spring. It is a fresh, upbeat work, strong in the influence of Holst, Vaughan Williams, Delius, and Frank Bridge's Enter Spring, along with suggestions in the climaxes of what was to come from the mature Alwyn. (Alwyn also set Part I of Blake's Marriage of Heaven' and Hell for soloists, chorus and orchestra. I suspect I would prefer it to the setting by William Bolcom and beg Chandos or Naxos to record it.)

Aphrodite in Aulis – an Eclogue for Small Orchestra (1932) is based on the eponymous novel by George Moore about a sculptor looking for a woman on whom to model a sculpture of Aphrodite. This short synthesis of Delius and Vaughan Williams quietly and reflectively describes the beauty of Aphrodite.

Alwyn applied the march style of Elgar and (especially) Walton to Festival March, though Alwyn's touch is lighter, more sprightly, and less grand and martial. He wrote the piece for the 1951 Festival of Britain.

The first four works (as listed in the heading) are available as couplings on different Chandos releases led by Richard Hickox. Symphonic Prelude was also recorded by the composer on Lyrita. The last two are recorded here for the first time. Not only is this a fine collection for those who have collected the Naxos series of Alwyn's symphonies; but I actually prefer Lloyd-Jones’s light, subtle touch, and Naxos’s comparable sound, in these particular pieces to the heavier approach of Hickox and Chandos. Throw in two previously unavailable works, and you have something that anyone interested in Alwyn or British music in general should have.

--Review by Hecht, American Record Guide, May/June 2007

Album Information

Instruments: Orchestra, Oboe, Harp,
Genre: Classical
Format: Audio CD
Our Ref: A1001-CD
MCPS: 8.570144
Label: Naxos
Year: 2006
Composer(s) Alwyn, William
Conductor(s): Lloyd-Jones, David
Orchestra(s): Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
Artist(s): Hudson, Eleanor (harp); Small, Jonathan (oboe)

About the Artists

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Composer: ALWYN, WILLIAM  BIOGRAPHY(1905 - 1985)


William Alwyn was born in Northampton on the 7th November 1905. He studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London, where, at the age of 21, he was appointed Professor of Composition, a position which he held for nearly thirty years. Amongst his works are five symphonies, concertos for flute, oboe, violin, and harp and two piano concertos, various descriptive orchestral pieces, four operas and much chamber, instrumental and vocal music. In addition to this Alwyn contributed nearly two hundred scores for the cinema. He began his career in this medium in 1936, writing music for documentaries. In 1941 he wrote his first feature length score for Penn of Pennsylvania. Other notable film scores include the following: Desert Victory, The Way Ahead, The True Glory, Odd Man Out, The History of Mr Polly, The Fallen Idol, The Rocking Horse Winner, The Crimson Pirate, The Million Pound Note, The Winslow Boy, The Card, and A Night To Remember. In recognition of his services to the film medium he was made a Fellow of the British Film Academy, the only composer ever to have received this honour. His other appointments include serving as chairman of the Composers Guild of Great Britain, which he had been instrumental in forming, in 1949, 1950 and 1954. He was a Director of the Mechanical Copyright Protection Society, a Vice-President of the Society for the Promotion of New Music (S.P.N.M.) and Director of the Performing Rights Society. For many years he was one of the panel reading new scores for the BBC. The conductor Sir John Barbirolli championed his first four symphonies and the First Symphony is dedicated to him.


David Lloyd–Jones began his professional career in 1959 on the music staff of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and soon became much in demand as a freelance conductor for orchestral and choral concerts, opera, BBC broadcasts and TV studio opera productions. He has appeared at the Royal Opera House (Boris Godunov with both Christoff and Ghaiurov), Welsh National Opera, Scottish Opera and the Wexford, Cheltenham, Edinburgh and Leeds Festivals, and with the major British orchestras. In 1972 he was appointed Assistant Music Director at English National Opera, and during his time there conducted an extensive repertory which included, in addition to all the standard operas, Die Meistersinger, Katya Kabanova, and the British stage premiere of Prokofiev’s War and Peace. In 1978, at the invitation of the Arts Council of Great Britain, he founded a new full-time opera company, Opera North, with its own orchestra, the English Northern Philharmonia, of which he became Artistic Director and Principal Conductor. During his twelve seasons with the company he conducted fifty different new productions, including The Trojans, Prince Igor, The Midsummer Marriage (Tippett), and the British stage première of Richard Strauss’s Daphne. He also conducted numerous orchestral concerts, including festival appearances in France and Germany. He has made many successful recordings of British and Russian music, and has an extensive career in the concert-hall and opera-house that takes him to leading musical centres throughout Central Europe, Scandinavia, Russia, Israel, Australia, Japan, Canada and the Americas. His highly acclaimed cycle of Bax’s symphonies and tone poems for Naxos (The Gramophone Award) was completed in the autumn of 2003. In 2007 he was given the rare distinction of being made an Honorary Member of the Royal Philharmonic Society.


The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra gives over sixty concerts from September to June in Liverpool’s Philharmonic Hall and presents concerts throughout the United Kingdom, in addition to tours abroad. Members of the orchestra are involved in a number of innovative community education projects. One of the oldest concert-giving organizations in the world, the RLPO dates back to 1840. In 1957 it acquired the title ‘Royal’, and in 1991 it was the first organization to be granted the freedom of the City of Liverpool. The first professional conductor of the Liverpool Philharmonic, in 1844, was Jakob Zeugheer, followed by Alfred Mellon, Max Bruch, Charles Hallé, Frederic Hymen Cowen, and Thomas Beecham. In 1942 Malcolm Sargent became resident conductor, followed in 1948 by Hugo Rignold as music director. Subsequent incumbents have included Efrem Kurtz and John Pritchard, Walter Weller, David Atherton, Marek Janowski, Libor Pešek, Petr Altrichter and Gerard Schwarz. Vasily Petrenko became Principal Conductor in September 2006.

Artist (obobe): SMALL, JONATHAN

Jonathan Small has been principal oboist of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra since 1984. His aspirations in oboe playing stem from the expressive flexibility of British artists such as Goossens, Sutcliffe, and Michael Winfield, his teacher at the Royal College of Music, blended with the richness of tone of the German school as exemplified by the Berlin Philharmonic’s Lothar Koch. His recordings include L’horloge de Flore by Jean Françaix, Vaughan Williams’s Oboe Concerto, and Richard Strauss’s Oboe Concerto. He has performed regularly as a soloist in Europe, including at the Prague Spring Festival, in the United States, China and Australia. In 2001 and 2004 he gave master-classes and concerts in Beijing, where he is Guest Professor at the Central Conservatory of Music. He teaches at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester.

Artist (harp): HUDSON, Eleanor

Eleanor Hudson was born in Buxton, Derbyshire. At the age of six she decided to play the harp after seeing Harpo Marx in full flight on television. But it was as a pianist that Eleanor entered the Chethams School of Music at the age of thirteen. She studied the harp there until she gained a place at the Royal Northern College of Music in 1980, where she was awarded the Guinness Scholarship for Harp and a degree in music. Eleanor went on to study at the Royal College of Music and gained a Diploma in Harp Performance. Since, her freelance professional career has led her to play with most orchestras in Britain including `Prams" at the Royal Albert Hall in London and a concerto with Scottish Chamber Orchestra in 1990. TV and Radio work includes playing with Ronnie Hazlelhursts Orchestra, solo work on ITV's programme 'Celebration', a live broadcast of flute and harp light music for Radio Two as well as many recordings of programme theme tunes and adverts for television.