One of the most distinguished post-war British composers, and most frequently performed both in the UK and abroad, Kenneth Leighton wrote music that maintains a compelling balance between the romantic tradition and early serialism. His lyrical and colourfully orchestrated works not only suggest a lively if often dark imagination, but demonstrate a scope explored by remarkably few of his countrymen. Richard Hickox and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales here present the first of two CDs devoted to orchestral works by Leighton.
The medium of the string orchestra proved significant for Leighton throughout his life, featuring in a number of important works. The three works in this first volume, each scored for string orchestra, represent a fitting resumé of his musical development, complementing one of his earliest student works, the Symphony for Strings, with two of his more mature ones. The Symphony for Strings was taken up and premiered by Gerald Finzi and his Newbury String Players whilst Leighton was still a student. The first major work by the composer for these forces, it proved a considerable success and sparked a friendship between the two composers which was to last until Finzi’s untimely death. The symphony is youthful and fresh in outlook, concerned with the coming of spring. The English music of Ralph Vaughan Williams, William Walton and Finzi himself exert a key influence. Twelve years passed before the composition of the Concerto for String Orchestra. This gap represented a considerable advance in the development of his musical language and style, Leighton becoming exposed to the works of both neoclassical composers and members of the Second Viennese School, but he still retained the lyrical instinct of his earlier years.
Completing the disc is one of Leighton’s most enduring orchestral works, the Concerto for Organ, String Orchestra and Timpani. Growing up in the West Yorkshire town of Wakefield, Leighton gained some of his earliest musical inspiration as a chorister at Wakefield Cathedral, where he also discovered the possibilities of the organ. Today Leighton is renowned as a composer of organ and church music, despite writing just eleven works for the instrument. The soloist in this recording is the internationally renowned concert organist John Scott, particularly acclaimed for his performances of works by twentieth-century composers. Scott too began his career as a chorister at Wakefield Cathedral. A former choir director of St Paul’s Cathedral, he now holds the post of Organist and Director of Music at St Thomas Church, Fifth Avenue in New York.