Movement 1: Grave – Animato
Movement 2: Canzona
Movement 3: Scherzetto
Movement 4: Choral
The opening sonata-form movement begins with a portentous introduction, presenting two important motifs – a brassy four-note motto-theme which reappears at salient points throughout the movement, and a more lyrical theme in free rhythm. The music then presses forward into a surging toccata-like Allegro, followed by a more relaxed presentation of the lyrical theme from the introduction. A few notes from a solo clarinet lead into the second subject-group, which also consists of two elements – a wistful, distinctly Elgarian motif, followed by a new tune on the clarinet. These various thematic ideas are welded together into a large-scale structure which maintains a truly symphonic ebb and flow of emotion, colour and intensity, culminating in an exciting coda and a final emphatic statement of the four-note motto from the opening bar.
Emotional and structural complexity are laid aside in the sonata’s two shorter middle movements. The Canzona is an eloquent song-without-words in the finest English lyrical tradition, while the irregular pointed rhythms and ear-tickling harmonies of the Scherzetto reflect Whitlock’s love of the light dance music of his day. The finale returns to more serious things, in an epic musical journey which takes the form of a very free chorale with variations. The sombre modal chorale provides almost all the musical material, with a little help from a contrasting theme first heard on the third page on a solo clarinet, but as the piece proceeds it also incorporates ideas from the first movement and the Scherzetto. The first big climax, with fanfares, flourishes and trills, leads into an extended passage (eight pages) of brilliant contrapuntal writing. After this a few bars of profound, spacious tranquillity lead to a magical moment – a miraculous transformation of the chorale, which abandons its initial modal severity, and briefly and gently blossoms into a heart-warming ‘big tune’. At this stage the tune is swept aside by further animated developments, which build to another climax with more fanfares, flourishes and trills. This heralds the long-awaited moment of fulfilment, which finally arrives in a glowing, unashamedly emotional statement of the big tune. After this there is nothing left to say; the music winds down and quietly fades away, like a summer sunset sinking into the night.
from notes by David Gammie © 2004