Hard to believe that these pieces were written when
the composer was seventy or so. Indeed Minna Kealís destiny is unique
in musicís history. Here is a composer who studied at the RAM, with
William Alwyn among others. She scored some early success with some
of her works, who had to stop composing for more than forty years and
find other jobs to support her family. She resumed her composition activities
in her seventies under the guidance of Justin Connolly and Oliver Knussen.
Her String Quartet Op.1, completed in
1978, is a compact, tightly argued piece of music bringing to mind the
works of her near-contemporary Elisabeth Maconchy or her teacher William
Alwyn. Actually Kealís music has much in common with Maconchyís: concise
formal structure, sureness of touch, uncompromising honesty. Her string
quartet is packed with energy, lyricism and tonal contrasts, and is
superbly written for the medium.
Much of the same can be said of her Wind Quintet
Op.2, completed in 1980 and dedicated to Alwyn. To a certain
extent, however, it is a more entertaining, relaxed work; a colourful,
contrasted divertimento in five short, varied movements.
Justin Connolly suggested that her next piece should
be orchestral. She originally planned a multi-movement suite based on
some of her second husbandís poems but it soon became evident that the
work would be an abstract symphony without any literary or extra-musical
programme. It took her five years to complete what became her Symphony
Op.3, written between 1980 and 1985. It is Ė surprisingly enough
Ė her first orchestral score. Again, hard to believe when considering
her mastery in handling large forces in a large-scale symphonic structure.
Kealís only symphony is quite a substantial piece of music, tightly
argued, cast in a moderately modern though very accessible idiom, brimming
with energy and invention. A quite impressive achievement and undoubtedly
the peak of her smallish output.
By contrast, Cantillation Op.4 for violin and orchestra,
completed in 1988, might seem a somewhat lighter work, which actually
it is not. This is a small-scale concerto, sometimes redolent of Ernest
Bloch, but in a clearly late 20th Century idiom. Again, this
is a wonderful piece alternating moments of rapt lyricism and dynamic
episodes of some considerable power.
The present release, published in 1996, was, to the
best of my knowledge, the first one ever devoted to Minna Kealís music.
Later, NMC released a CD [NMC
D048S £3.99] coupling her earlier Ballad (1929) for cello
and piano and her recent Cello Concerto (1994), thus, filling some further
gaps in our appreciation of her unusual creative life. All concerned
in the Lorelt project put all their heart into these dedicated and affectionate
readings. These fine works vastly repay repeated hearings and definitely
deserve to be better known. Recommended to those willing to explore
some neglected by-ways of the 20th Century British music.
See article on
Minna Keal by Paul Conway