Arthur Butterworth Symphonies Nos. 1, 2 & 4

Arthur Butterworth was born in New Moston, Manchester on 4 August 1923. He became a choirboy at the age of seven, but it was the sound of a brass band performing in a park which ignited an enduring passion for music. He attended North Manchester Grammar School for Boys and in 1939 was awarded the prestigious Alexander Owen Memorial Fund scholarship which helped admit him to the ranks of the celebrated Besses o’ th’ Barn Band. After war service in the Royal Engineers, he entered the Royal Manchester College of Music, where he received tuition in trumpet and conducting and studied composition with Richard Hall. A prolific and hardworking composer, Arthur Butterworth produced over 150 scores for a variety of musical forces. He wrote mainly to commissions which were often extended by fellow musicians confident he would provide a piece for their instrument or ensemble that was both idiomatic and challenging.


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Arthuer Butterworth was an artistic champion for the British landscapes he adored. This is a fine release, encapsulating an unprecedented collection of three of his seven symphonies and exposes his lifelong love of the Bronte sisters and the environment that so inspired them. This genteel man, who died at 91, found that a fascination with wild places became an irrepressible inspiration for his art: “I have always been deeply under the spell of the remote and lonely moorlands of the North of England and much of my music has been influenced by forbidding, desperate loneliness,” he once wrote. Ironically, Butterworth’s largely unsung symphonies show an emotive depth and power to equal anything the Bronte sisters put into the words. The mainstay of this sparkling new trio of Butterworth symphonies is undoubtedly the late great Vernon Handley, who delivers Butterworth’s formidable Fourth with a remarkable dramatic tenderness and gusto. There are clear orchestral references to those two 20th century giants of symphonic literature, Carl Nielsen and Gustav Mahler, but Butterworth never loses sight of his own very distinctive style. Sublime orchestral passages, featuring a clever use of timpani and snare-drum a-la-Nielsen, are matched by a mellow use of the horns, trombone and trumpet in an impressive Mahlerian way. A goose-pimply blend of luscious string harmonies adds weight to the spine-chilling impact of Butterworth’s rugged and “lonely moorlands”. Sections from both orchestras indulge in some plaintive and contrastingly playful woodwind passages, to the ominous crash of a restrained but menacing tam-tam which combines to under-score the bleak beauty of Butterworth and Bronte countryside. These BBC archive recordings span 30 years with the composer himself taking charge of the baton to perform his First Symphony in 1957. Christopher Adey is no less impressive in a performance of the broody Second Symphony in 1964, hot on the heels of a premiere by the legendary Adrian Boult, no less. The meticulous Vernon Handley tops the bill with a magnificent highly-charged reading of the Fourth in 1986. Altogether we are witnessing a wonderful post-Butterworth revival, so well-deserved in works that certainly leave their mark and will doubtlessly lead to more performances. British Music Society

"No comparisons diminish the stature of the Fourth Symphony, energetically captured in its premiere performance in 1986, and a triumphant success in its own right. The conflicting keys, hovering note oscillations and disruptive percussion might point in Nielsen's direction, yet we're still securely in Butterworth's north, where turbulence and exuberance walk side by side, slow movements ache, and growling dark sonorities, like peat bogs on the Yorkshire Moors, are never far away. This is a musical country well worth a visit."  BBC Music Magazine  

Without question, with Butterworth’s Fourth, a major symphonic composer fully arrived – at a time, in certain influential quarters, when such thinking was being positively discouraged from composers of whichever age-group. If the essence of creative art is to reach transcendence, then Butterworth’s Fourth achieves it with full artistry. Here is a composer who knows what he is doing, and why – causing listeners to respond in the most positive fashion. These three performances are splendid, and the sound of 2 and 4 is very good. The five stars awarded this issue reflecs the quality of the music.Robert Matthew-Walker, Classicalsource


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