BBC Philharmonic 
Philharmonia Orchestra 
BBC Philharmonic Brass 
Albany Symphony Orchestra 
George Lloyd conductor


It is an extraordinary journey to hear the whole of George Lloyd’s symphonies over a single period of time, a psychodrama if ever there was one. The severe trauma of his naval service on the Arctic convoys during WW 2 had more lasting effects was initially realised.  After a long period of recuperation, as we now know, Symphony 4 of 1946 emerged with the memories of the distressing events seemingly put to flight by the ebullient and cheerful coda.  But, as Paul Conway’s excellent notes remark, this was far from the case.

While Symphony 6 was relatively cool, calm and collected, the gremlins re-appeared with a flourish in both Symphonies 7 and 9 which, in this collection constitute disc 1, together because of their emotional content (and also because they fit on the disc). In no 7 (1957-9) the dissonance is much more acute, the music far more troubled than no 4, and the final climax is spine-chilling and cataclysmic.  I have the feeling that even good hi-fi is not doing this music justice – a live performance would have a Wagnerian impact, and to which it might well be difficult to listen.

As Conway says, the stated basic premise is that No 7 was influenced by the story of the Greek mythological figure of Proserpine. The composer said that it ‘seems to tell us something about the human condition of having one foot on this earth and another somewhere else – wherever that might be’. Be that as it may, but again quoting Conway, it ‘gave expression to his inner torment… (and) he identified so closely with the score that it affected his mental health’.  The final pages collapse in exhaustion and despair (well-justified here, unlike the end of Symphony 2). I cannot say, at the moment, whether I like this music, but I certainly feel deep admiration for it.

Troubles re-emerge big time in no 9 of 1969.  The composer noted that ‘the first movement is about a young girl, she dances and is a little sentimental; the second is about an old woman who reminisces – grief-stricken, and the third is a merry-go-round that just keeps going round and round’.

Well, the first movement is lovely in its ‘elfin breeziness’ (Conway again), but the second contains some of Lloyd’s most dissonant and tragic music.  The finale is frantic, hysterical, deranged; in this conclusion Lloyd is telling us ‘just sod it, I have had enough’……………. 

After the toil and trouble of No 7, Lloyd says ‘the 8th came along, which has really no programme at all behind it. I had just wanted to enjoy myself’.  There are a few references to ‘half-remembered horrors’ in the slow movement, but the general mood is one of an ecstatic exuberance.  His mastery of the orchestra is totally obvious, surpassing, say, Respighi at his best (or worst).  There is a wonderfully emotional climax in the first movement, something you might hear in a romantic movie, and this is not a criticism. The finale matches the rest of the piece.  I loved the tune which mostly centres on two adjacent notes, and the breathless coda which is full of manic energy.  This 1965 work did not have to wait for a performance as long as Lloyd’s other post-war symphonies, the heroic Edward Downes conducting the première broadcast in 1977. It received a rapturous response from the listening public.  Could someone please have a word with John Wilson about this piece?!

Moving on to symphonies 11 and 12, I detect a falling-off in inspiration.  I wonder how we might view these works if we did not have the examples of the best of the previous works. No 11 is particularly tough.  Conway sort of admits this when he claims it ‘grows in stature on each hearing’.  Well, possibly, but you have to feel the need to do this. At 59 minutes it is one of the longest in the series, and I felt that the going was tough (there is even a sort of 12 tone-row – even if like Berg’s rather than Schönberg’s!)  Geoffrey Norris, the Daily Telegraph critic asked after the première in 1994, ‘Where is the big tune?’.  Well, there are tunes but they do not carry the expected charge.  All of Lloyd’s structural and technical prowess is there to be sure, but there are long periods when all one hears is noise.

Thus, the relatively calm and peaceful – and shorter – 12th symphony comes as a relief, with its gentler moods and thoughts.  The composer is bidding farewell to his epic journey with a twilit feeling of achievement and satisfaction. I was reminded of a similar mood at the end of Respighi’s (him again) ‘Fountains of Rome’. Of course, Lloyd was not yet finished – a number of choral works for instance followed.

The cuckoo in this extravagant nest is the 10th Symphony which is for brass instruments only. The subtitle is ‘November Journeys’ which is a reference to some rail Journeys Lloyd took to visit various cathedrals – ‘the sounds became mixed up with the magnificent buildings I was seeing’.  We do read what he says, but only in the second movement is there an obvious reflection of this aim.  In the event, to my ears at least, a lot of the music sounds pretty ugly, so this is one for devotees only. (I was, though, reminded at intervals of Honegger’s ‘Pacific 231’ – which is not a bad thing.)

The final item on this disc is the Orchestral Suite no 1, movements arranged in 1997 from the opera ‘The Serf’ of 1938.  This is an old man’s indulgence to be sure.  This music is totally innocuous and needs words and action to be relevant. Sorry about that.

Review by Geoffrey Atkinson