Among the nearly forgotten English composers of the twentieth century, Alan Rawsthorne ranks between the quite obscure Havergal Brian and very obscure John Foulds. Part of the reason for this is that Rawsthorne's music has the distinct disadvantage of sounding distinctly un-English. His language is still tonal but with a fair amount of chromaticism and lots of modal influences. His tone is expressive and articulate but reserved and almost austere. His technique is fluent but never an end in itself. But, wholly without a trace of an accent, Rawsthorne is Martinu with less luminosity, Honegger with less frivolity, a Hindemith with less impetuosity, but while one is invariably convinced of the music's earnest sincerity, one is infrequently moved by its deracinated style.
For devoted fans of the English symphony, however, Rawsthorne's three symphonies still deserve to be heard. And for them, the three recordings on this disc are the classic performances: John Pritchard and the London Philharmonic's exuberant 1975 First, Nicholas Braithwaite and the LPO's enthusiastic 1993 Second with soprano Tracey Chadwell, and Norman del Mar and the BBC Symphony's energetic 1967 Third. Moments, passages, even whole pages can be interesting, but they are never arresting -- the gestures are too obvious, the rhetoric too strenuous, the argument too tedious. For those devoted fans of the English symphony, Rawsthorne's symphonies deserve to be heard to fill the aesthetic gap between the symphonies of Malcolm Arnold and those of George Lloyd. Stereo or digital sound, Lyrita's sound was always clean, direct, and immediate.