Cyril Rootham Orchestral Works

‘Rootham has done much for other contemporary composers; unfortunately he has been deficient in peddling his own wares’. This verdict on Cyril Rootham may serve to explain the neglect his music suffered during his lifetime. However, the general indifference it has encountered subsequently is unfathomable. It is to be hoped that this Lyrita release, which echoes the enterprise of the same label’s pioneering 1976 studio recording of the First Symphony will reawaken interest in a key figure in early twentieth century British music.


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“Rare and irreplaceable performances of works by British composer Cyril Rootham conducted by Vernon Handley released as part of Lyrita’s Itter Broadcast Collection. Here we have some of the finest British singers of the period together with the exemplary Trinity Boys Choir, BBC Singers and BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by the incomparable Vernon Handley. Even if modern recordings of these works were to appear, I would still not want to dispense with these irreplaceable performances. Vernon Handley brings so much to this fine music, an intuitive understanding. There are excellent detailed notes on the music and recordings.”

Cyril Rootham (1875–1937) was a respected English composer, conductor, and teacher. His friends included Ralph Vaughan Williams and his students Arthur Bliss and Patrick Hadley. In late 1935 he suffered from a progressive muscular atrophy, affecting his limbs and even his speech. His Symphony 2 had to be dictated to others, mostly Hadley, some of it even on his deathbed. The work has three movements. I, running 18 minutes, is about half the work and has a thoughtful, ruminative character. Its opening theme reappears in the next two movements. The horns open the second subject, a Celtic-sounding melody forcefully developed. The movement ends with a Baxian epilogue. For all its scope, the music sounds well-knit and concentrated. The Ode (1930) uses a Milton text. As the poem has 216 lines, it’s largely a line-by-line setting, which fortunately leaves no time for the kind of padding that Virgil Thomson used to call fly-y-y-y-y-ing in vain. The music is technically superior, with skilled scoring underlying an exceptional deployment of every choir section’s range. Rootham uses the boy-choir to add a crisp edge to some sonorities and a honed echo to others. This is real invention, as opposed to the cutesy-poo crap so often laid out for the kiddies. The parts tend constantly to interweave, rather than displaying clear-cut melodies. It’s music good choir directors and singers would deeply appreciate, but there are hefty stretches that would impress any listener. After a strenuous climax, the last verse is serene, females and boys ascending to the Empyrean over a sustained chord on the muted brass and bass violins. Performances of both works—the Ode especially—are excellent. Handley’s conducting—how he is missed by serious musicians—is, as usual, first-rate. American Record Guide

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