Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

Nimbus on-line

Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett



Crotchet   AmazonUK   AmazonUS

Margaret Lucy WILKINS (b.1939)
Musica Angelorum (1991)
Sofia Soloists Chamber orchestra/Plamen Djurov,
Struwwelpeter (1973) for soprano, 3 clarinets, piano, percussion
Alison Wells, soprano
FIREBIRD ensemble/Barrie Webb
Burnt Sienna: Etude for String Orchestra (1974)
FIREBIRD String Trio
366" for solo trombone (1986)
Barrie Webb, trombone
Symphony (1989)
Timişoară Symphony Orchestra/Barrie Webb
Recorded Musica Nova, Sofia, June 1996 (Musica Angelorum), St. Paul’s Hall, University of Huddersfield, Huddersfield, UK, June 20th and 22nd, 2002 (Struwwelpeter, Burnt Sienna, Etude for String Trio and 366" for solo trombone), Sala Liculuide Muzica “Ion Vidu”, Timişoară, Rumania, October 10th 1999 (Symphony)

The English composer Margaret Lucy Wilkins is a member of the music staff at Huddersfield University. Not unexpectedly, her music has often appeared at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, but has also been heard at similar events throughout the western world.

However you feel about the actual nature of her music, it has to be said straight away that this is a highly impressive issue. The standard of both performance and recording is very high, and there are notable contributions from Barrie Webb, who is the brilliant trombonist in 366" as well as the conductor of two items, and from soprano Alison Wells.

What of the music? Well, it’s certainly challenging; I have to say that there are moments when I wonder who music like this is for. I mean that seriously, not necessarily as a criticism. Sometimes, as the listener, you feel it is being aimed at you rather than provided for any kind of enjoyment, and I imagine the players may feel at least something of the same sense of embattlement. There is an almost adolescent grumpiness and aggression about some of it, which is tiring, but can be overcome by stretching out one’s listening - not listening to too much at one go.

Which raises another point; this music surely has a strongly theatrical and therefore visual element, meaning that a CD can only partially convey its essence. Ironically, repertoire like this would best be served by video or DVD, but is just the last kind of thing that recording companies, conscious of rapidly diminishing profit margins, are likely to invest in. But you do need an imaginative response - willingness in this regard to meet the music halfway. There is no denying Wilkins’ imagination for textures, and she has the commitment and ability to see her ideas through – a real composer, there’s no doubt about it, and one with a distinctive voice and personality.

Musica Angelorum, for string orchestra, is based on the intriguing idea of the sort of music the bands of angels seen in mediaeval paintings might be imagined to be playing. It begins with widely spaced musings on a triad of A major, then diversifies and enriches, seeming to come closer, then move away again, finally disappearing into the ether. My mind came up with a most strange comparison – the Act I Prelude of Wagner’s Lohengrin! The concept is the same though delivered through an entirely different musical vocabulary.

Struwwelpeter is huge fun – if you like this kind of thing … and I must say I do. It is basically expressionistic in style, with shrieking clarinets and wailing vocal glissandi that bring it close to the world of, for example, Peter Maxwell Davies’ Mad King songs. The verses, translations of German texts by Dr. Heinrich Hoffmann, are delightfully macabre. They deal with the slovenly figure of Struwwelpeter himself; the sinister Cruel Frederick; little Harriet, who sets fire to herself with a box of matches; Augustus, who rejects food and wastes away rapidly; the racist Inky Boys, who attack a ‘black-a-moor’; and finally Flying Robert, who unadvisedly goes out on a stormy day and gets blown away hanging on to his own umbrella! Wonderful stuff, and Wilkins is more than equal to the black humour. I loved the ‘pussy-cats’ who are alarmed at Harriet’s antics with the matches, and the sly references to the Offenbach Barcarolle in the clarinets (these poems are, of course, ‘tales of Hoffmann’, though in her very straight-faced note, the composer ascribes this quotation to a link with the Nazi death-camps). And the depiction of Flying Robert borne aloft with his umbrella, like some horrifically distorted Mary Poppins, is hilariously portrayed by concerted upward glissandi from the three clarinets – most uplifting (sorry). Alison Wells is the highly accomplished soloist.

Of Burnt Sienna: Etude for String Trio, Wilkins writes, curiously, that "though it is not tonal, it centres around ‘A’". I would ask (politely) how can music be ‘not tonal’ if it has a tonal centre? It may not be ‘in a key’ but that is, to me, a very different matter. Be that as it may, this is another impressive piece, with, to my ears, more than a mere flavour of Bartók in the string textures, and in the sinuous melody for high violin.

366" is not related in any way to a certain piece by John Cage. It is simply intended to last precisely six minutes and six seconds. (Why? Is there a Satanic connection here?!) Among the works it will inevitably be compared with are Berio’s clown-inspired Sequenza, or Arne Nordheim’s superb Hunting of the Snark. Wilkins’ little work has the same wit and imagination, and is very carefully and convincingly constructed. Barrie Webb gives a stunningly assured performance.

Finally, the Symphony. This is quite a large-scale structure, with three movements entitled Exposition, Juxtaposition, Opposition. It’s a powerful work, though it does have the problem of much recent music, namely a difficulty getting moving, of acquiring momentum, of becoming really fast. The final section intends to do that, but somehow never does. Textures sometimes recall Messiaen, at other times Ligeti. I am looking forward to hearing it again – it undoubtedly stays in the memory. This is a tribute in itself, when so much contemporary music, full of empty gestures and technical ‘wizardry’ is instantly forgettable.

It would be wonderful if more British universities had senior music staff writing such intelligent, individual music. My congratulations to everybody who worked on the major project that this recording represents.

Gwyn Parry-Jones

Gerard Hoffnung CDs

Advertising on

Donate and get a free CD

New Releases

Naxos Classical


Musicweb sells the following labels
Acte Préalable
Cameo Classics
Northern Flowers
Toccata Classics

Follow us on Twitter

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing

Sample: See what you will get

Return to Index

Untitled Document

Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.