Malcolm Lipkin (born in Liverpool in 1932) has produced a fine body of works over the last sixty years. An early success with his Third Piano Sonata in 1951 was followed by the Fourth, taken up by Peter Katin, and the Piano Concerto, by Lamar Crowson. Yfrah Neaman championed several pieces, including Violin Sonata No 1 and the Second Violin Concerto which he commissioned. I wonder whether the founder of Lyrita, the late Richard Itter, recorded that; if so, let us hope it appears. In 1984 the Nash Ensemble documented three compositions, Pastorale (for horn and string quintet), the String Trio and Clifford's Tower, for Hyperion. Sadly, this excellent recording has, so far, not been issued on CD.
The Hyperion collection and this release from Lyrita both illustrate Lipkin's progress as a composer and the change from writing in a largely tonal idiom to an atonal one. As a student and young man, Lipkin was taught by Bernard Stevens and by Boris Blacher. It is, perhaps, Mátyás Seiber who had the greatest influence on him and with whom he studied for three years from 1954. During the 1960s, Lipkin was a visitor to the Finzi household in Hampshire (Gerald himself now deceased), where he was able to escape from busy and noisy London to rural peace and quiet.
A city was the inspiration for Lipkin's Sinfonia di Roma, completed in 1965. He was struck by the juxtaposition of Rome's ancient, classical buildings with the noise of traffic and his account of this appears in the excellent booklet. The Symphony's three sections are played without a break, with two potent slow movements framing one that is very energetic. The atonal writing was a new departure for Lipkin and the work had a long gestation period, from 1958, during which he completed more-tonal works, and in 1960 Seiber was killed in a car accident in South Africa. The Symphony has aspects of description, though not nearly to the level of Respighi's Roman triptych, coupled with well-argued symphonic writing. Sinfonia di Roma is given a tight, muscular and gripping reading by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Lionel Friend.
Inspiration for Lipkin's two following Symphonies – The Pursuit (1975-1979) and Sun (1979-1985) – came respectively from two 17th-century poets, Andrew Marvell and Robert Herrick, and are each in a single movement. The Pursuit deals with time passing, and it seems, time standing still, and the arch-like form has a powerful climax in the centre. There is some fine playing from the BBC Philharmonic under Sir Edward Downes. Sun follows a similar construction with a Scherzo as the focus of the arch; ideas germinate over the work’s course and build towards a tremendous unleashing of energy. The BBC Philharmonic under Adrian Leaper produced a taut, secure first performance.
Sound-quality from the BBC's vaults is very good, that from Glasgow a little drier than with the BBC Philharmonic. Paul Conway's essay is exemplary. The booklet also contains useful lists of works by British composers which appeared at the same time as Lipkin's Symphonies. Apart from that mentioned above, Lipkin's Piano Trio (1988) may still be available on the Kingdom label from the English Piano Trio, and From Across La Manche (1998) appears in volume six of Naxos’s English String Miniatures. There is too little Lipkin available on disc, so Lyrita's issuing of the Symphonies in such fine accounts is tremendously valuable. I am delighted to have made their acquaintance.