> Richard Meale - Viridian [HC]: Classical CD Reviews- Oct 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Richard MEALE (born 1932)
Scenes from Mer de Glace (1992)
Viridian (1979)
Symphony No.1 (1994)
Adelaide Symphony Orchestra; David Porcelijn
Recorded: Adelaide Town Hall, November 1993
ABC CLASSICS 446 477-2 [57:03]



Once considered as the "Standard Bearer of the New", to quote Roger Covell’s phrase, Meale composed a good deal of strikingly original and modern works (e.g. Coruscations) in the wake of composers such as Boulez, Stockhausen or his near-contemporaries Birtwistle and Maxwell Davies. In the mid-1970s he obviously went through an artistic crisis which stopped him from composing for several years. Some time later he returned to composition and the first fruit of his musical rebirth was the splendid, exuberant and colourfully scored orchestral work Viridian completed in 1975. In this lushly impressionistic piece Meale turned his back on radical modernism. Nevertheless, this superbly crafted piece is clearly of its time; and influences, if such there really are, are fully absorbed and made part of Meale’s renewed music making. The music does not set out to imitate Debussy. It rather reflects Meale’s own brand of Impressionism in which beautifully atmospheric textures dominate. Sensuality has now the upper hand, though the music is still strictly under control; but formal preoccupations are no longer predominant.

Meale composed his second opera Mer de Glace to a libretto by David Malouf in the early 1990s. Byron and Shelley are the poetic inspirations, and the opera interweaves the events of the brief holiday when the Shelleys and the Byrons met at Lake Geneva, with elements from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Meale chose four scenes from the opera and reworked them so that they "stand by themselves as a musical piece" while conveying the atmosphere of the opera. The first piece On the Mer de Glace vividly evokes the Alps and some massive ice crags, whereas the second piece Prelude : Lake Geneva is a beautiful reverie. Village Dance alludes to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. In this scene the monster desperately tries to join the village folk’s dance. The final scene is Mary Shelley’s Nightmare. The Romantic subject matter of the opera allowed for a great deal of stylistic freedom, and Meale wrote unashamedly communicative and vividly evocative music, much in the same vein as Viridian.

Meale completed his Symphony No.1 in 1994. This powerfully impressive piece is an extended movement in modified sonata form (the composer’s words). Everything in this tightly argued piece derives from the opening thematic figure. The work opens with a bold gesture played by the horns, reminiscent of Bruckner; and the music unfolds almost effortlessly, though logically through various contrasted episodes, building-up towards some shattering climaxes and ending with a grand restatement of the opening horn gesture. Meale’s intense and weighty First Symphony is a quite impressive achievement of its own; but it is also a rather puzzling one, were it only for the Bruckner allusions recurring through the piece. Meale, the Bearer of the New, has obviously travelled far.

David Porcelijn conducts vital readings of these pieces that shed light on Meale’s recent musical progress. Recording and production are excellent.

Hubert Culot


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