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William WALLACE (1860 - 1940) Creation Symphony, Pelléas and Mélisande, Prelude to The Eumenides   BBC Scottish SO/Martyn Brabbins. HYPERION CDA66987 [73.60]

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In this CD all three subjects are highly colourful and dramatic and Wallace gives them the full late romantic treatment in the expansive Germanic tradition. Influences of Liszt and Wagner are pervasive throughout.

The music for the Prelude to The Eumenides (1893) follows the character and outline of the Aeschylus story: the opening music driving relentlessly forward and seething as The Furies seek to punish Orestes for the murder of his mother Clytemnestra who had, herself, murdered her husband, Orestes' father. The contrasting conciliatory music represents the defence by Athene who pleads justifiable homicide and placates The Furies by offering them asylum, elevated status and a new name - The Benefactors. The Wagnerian influence is strong - one can hear snippets of Lohengrin, Tannhäuser and Meistersinger all woven into the fabric which is just that bit too extravagant - a little judicious snipping might not have gone amiss.

The lovely Pelléas and Mélisande Suite is the strongest work here, and it is interesting to compare Wallace's view with the writings of Debussy, Sibelius and Fauré. The Scottish composer's 1900 setting of Maeterlinck's symbolist drama, followed that of Fauré's incidental music for an 1898 production of the play and preceded Debussy's opera, completed in 1902 and the Sibelius Suite of 1905. Wallace's suite opens with the increasingly urgent and passionate The Love of Pelléas for Mélisande. Following the dramatic action, the music's subtle shadings seem to question the innocence of the lovers' passion and forecasts the ensuing tragedy. Wallace's charming Spinning Song, central movement, with its captivating waltz rhythms, is similar, in spirit, to Fauré's conception of this scene in capturing Mélisande's unaffected innocence - unlike Sibelius's interpretation which has dark and sinister undercurrents. Wallace conceives a vast and dark grief for The Death of Mélisande befitting such a royal tragedy - dramatic funeral drums and trumpets giving way to hushed misery voiced in the depths of the orchestra.

The Creation Symphony is written on a huge scale - some might find it over-inflated. It is Wallace's response to the Biblical story of the creation. Its four movements cover: (1) the creation of heaven and earth out of the void; Wallace opens the work with great orchestral daring - double basses divided and solo tuba - to represent emptiness and space; and he chooses C sharp minor as the main key to produce a dark veiled colouring before the gradual transformation to an ultimate calm hymn representing light (2) the light of the stars, moon and sun, is the most successful movement in the work with music of great beauty and imagination; the starlight section anticipating today's minimalist music; the moon music tranquil but not without passion; and the sunlight proclaimed in music of suitable majesty and splendour (3) the creation of land and sea is the least inspired movement while (4) the creation of man, is a powerful evocation of the human spirit of love and creativity, dressed in vivid orchestral colours. Except for the second movement, stronger, more memorable thematic material might have made this work more memorable. Nonetheless, this is another very welcome addition to the expanding British orchestral music repertoire.


Ian Lace

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Ian Lace

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