Gordon Jacob: Symphonies 1 & 2

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Editorial Reviews

All Music Guide - Uncle Dave Lewis
Gordon Jacob was the odd man out among major twentieth century British composers; initially self-taught and later a long-term professor at the Royal College of Music, there is nothing of the "cowpat" school in Jacob's music. Some of it is hardy and contrapuntal, but a lot of it is disarmingly simple; while it is English to the core, it shows that Jacob also had his ears open to a wide range of other music. His handling of harmony is often rather French in orientation, and he also picks up things from Stravinsky. Jacob was a strong proponent of melody, but made liberal use of dissonance and was fond of harmonizing with perfect intervals; his most famous piece, the ...
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Editorial Reviews

All Music Guide - Uncle Dave Lewis
Gordon Jacob was the odd man out among major twentieth century British composers; initially self-taught and later a long-term professor at the Royal College of Music, there is nothing of the "cowpat" school in Jacob's music. Some of it is hardy and contrapuntal, but a lot of it is disarmingly simple; while it is English to the core, it shows that Jacob also had his ears open to a wide range of other music. His handling of harmony is often rather French in orientation, and he also picks up things from Stravinsky. Jacob was a strong proponent of melody, but made liberal use of dissonance and was fond of harmonizing with perfect intervals; his most famous piece, the chorus "Brother James' Air," is a classic example of that. Jacob was so extraordinarily prolific in his 89 years that it is hard to know where to start; since his death, Jacob's choral and band music has come to the fore and that is what he is best known for. However, Jacob has only two symphonies, both recorded here by the London Philharmonic Orchestra under Barry Wordsworth, and they are both in some ways typical and not typical of the composer. Both are "war" symphonies; the "Symphony No. 1" 1929 was dedicated to Jacob's elder brother, Anstey, who perished on the Somme at age 22, and during World War I Jacob himself was taken prisoner. It is not a dour, mournful work; on the contrary, in the first movement it is aggressive and not a little bombastic, but also entirely serious in intent with no saber rattling nor "heroism" in the conventional sense. The second movement is extraordinarily beautiful, a somber meditation underpinned with a gentle ostinato that maintains a feeling of being constantly on the move. The Scherzo is playful, but not particularly joyous, followed by a lovely Larghetto in a lighter vein, somewhat wistful in tone, suggesting that Jacob was not only focusing on the conflict in which Anstey Jacob died, but other parts of his life as well. The closing movement opens with a big rolling fugato, and while it is certainly exciting, one wonders why it is there. The symphony is a good one, but at five movements, it is one movement too long. Jacob could not secure performances of it in his lifetime, and perhaps that was one of the main reasons why. This is its first recording. The "Symphony No. 2 in C major" 1945 was written at the end of World War II and, unlike the first symphony, was first performed in 1946. By this time, Jacob's personal style was established, and interestingly in a superficial sense it is rather similar to the first symphony except that the material is shaped entirely differently. Although it only runs two minutes less than the first, the second symphony feels a lot more concise and has a much stronger formal scheme. This time, Jacob follows his gut and ends with a slow movement, which he probably should have done the first time around. Both symphonies, nevertheless, are in a singular style and are accomplished and at times moving works. Lyrita's recording is a little distant, and while loud, dramatic passages come off generally successfully, more than one passage present suffers from workaday, disinterested music-making. Notwithstanding, these are two solid twentieth century British symphonies that are provocative and well worth experiencing.
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Product Details

  • Release Date: 8/7/2007
  • Label: Lyrita
  • EAN: 5020926031525
  • Catalog Number: 315
  • Sales rank: 172,623

Album Credits

Performance Credits
Barry Wordsworth Primary Artist
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 20, 2011

    Great Symphonies

    Gordon Jacob is relatively unknown outside of Great Britain; he is not known there for his symphonies. He only wrote two symphonies. The First was completed in 1929, and dedicated to his brother, who was killed in World War I. Gordon Jacob was taken prisoner in that war. The Second was completed in 1945. This appears to be the first recording of his two symphonies. I am a fan of the symphonies of British composers, so I purchased this CD, after hearing some excerpts from it. The symphonies are not complex or innovative, but they are very enjoyable to hear. The symphonies are well orchestrated, and the sound on this Cd is quite clear. The allegro movements are lively, with much use of brass and percussion instruments. The slower movements are melodic. In fact, I am of the opinion, that the 4th movement of his First Symphony is one of the most beautiful movements of any symphony. There are some catchy melodies contained in the two symphonies. The pamphlet included with the CD gives a fairly concise breakdown of the music. I don't recommend that one should dissect the symphonies, but just sit back and enjoy the fine music, without worrying about the "whys" and "wherefores" of it.

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