‘Rootham has done much for other contemporary composers; unfortunately he has been deficient in peddling his own wares’. This verdict on Cyril Rootham may serve to explain the neglect his music suffered during his lifetime. However, the general indifference it has encountered subsequently is unfathomable. It is to be hoped that this Lyrita release, which echoes the enterprise of the same label’s pionee ring 1976 studio recording of the First Symphony will reawaken interest in a key figure in early twentieth century British music.
Composed between 1925 and 1928, Rootham’s setting of Milton’s Ode on the Morning of Christ’s Nativity, for soprano, tenor and baritone soloists, chorus, a semi-chorus of boys’ voices and orchestra, is the composer’s most ambitious and accomplished choral work. It won the 1928 Carnegie Competition and was premiered successfully on 13 June 1930 under the composer’s direction. A performance in Gloucester at the 1934 Three Choirs Festival brought further acclaim. The performance presented here is a 1975 recording of a BBC Radio 3 broadcast marking Rootham’s centenary. Vernon Handley’s assured handling of this large score is constantly impressive and he highlights its tiniest ge stures and flecks of colour as well as moulding convincingly its epic, sweeping paragraphs.
Rootham first conceived the idea of a symphonic work with choral finale in 1936 at a time when he beagn to suffer from progressive muscular atrophy. The Symphony No.2 was completed at a stage when Rootham was no longer able to write and could barely speak, ten days before he died in March 1938. The result can be regarded as a deeply personal statement or rather, given the circumstances of its creation, as a testament. The overall effect is all the more poignant because it shuns sentimentality and self-indulgence. It was premiered on 17 March 1939 at the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios by the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Adrian Boult. This performance under Vernon Handley was first broadcast on 28 November 1984. Handley’s grasp of this fragile, elusive symphonic piece is as impressive as his 1976 studio account of Rootham’s First Symphony (also available on Lyrita SRCD269) and constitutes arguably an even greater interpretive achievement.