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Thea MUSGRAVE (born 1928)
Memento Vitae (1969/70)a
Helios (1994)b
Night Music (1969)c
The Seasons (1988)d
Nicholas Daniel (oboe)b; Scottish Chamber Orchestrabcd; BBC Symphony Orchestraa; Nicholas Kraemerbcd, Jac van Steena
Recorded: Studio 1, BBC Maida Vale, London, May 1998 (Memento Vitae) and City Hall, Glasgow, May 1998 (Helios, The Seasons, Night Music)
NMC ANCORA D 074 [79:34]

 

Memento Vitae, which is new to the catalogue, is one of the many scores written for Beethoven year in 1970. Other such works include Boucourechliev’s Ombres and Paul Tortelier’s Offrande, to name but two. The subtitle of the Musgrave work ‘Concerto in Homage to Beethoven’ fairly aptly describes what we hear. This is a brilliant concerto for orchestra replete with quotations of or allusions to Beethoven’s music. These are embedded into Musgrave’s own personal sound world. These quotations or allusions are of more than purely anecdotal significance and the music never falls into blunt parody or pastiche. The global impact of this gripping and colourful score is of utmost sincerity and honesty, and often of deep inner turmoil. Significantly enough, the piece ends in utter desolation and the final lament is deeply moving.

The other pieces have been released several years ago, on COLLINS 15292, and thus make a most welcome return to the catalogue. The magnificent Night Music is, I believe, one of her finest works: contemporary, "modern" without any ostentation or any trendy "gimmicks" if we except the fact that the horn players are instructed to move around the orchestra. This is an effect in much in the same way as that demanded of the clarinettist in the superb Clarinet Concerto of 1968. At the very end of the piece one of the horn players moves off-stage. Musgrave describes Night Music as "a dream landscape" which is what the piece really is. The nocturnal mood is thoroughly and beautifully embodied by the horns which stand out in a clearly concertante role. These are wonderfully played by Robert Cook and Harry Johnstone, otherwise uncredited in the insert notes.

Helios, composed in 1994, is the most recent work here. The myth of Helios (or its astrological or geographical associations) has long inspired composers from Saint-Saëns (Phaeton) to Paul Ruders (Corona) or Christopher Rouse (Phaeton) while not forgetting Nielsen or the late William Mathias. This is a beautifully crafted piece of some substance, superbly evocative without being blandly picturesque. It is a worthy successor to Musgrave’s earlier concertos.

The Seasons was commissioned by the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields and first performed by them in 1988. Its basic ideas are related to a number of paintings without being overtly programmatic. Drama is achieved through some brief quotations (Dies Irae, The Star Spangled Banner, La Marseillaise and from Musgrave’s opera Harriet, the Woman called Moses) though these are always very discreetly hinted at. This is another colourful, appealing score that deserves to be better-known although it may not have the wealth of invention found in the other works recorded here.

The present release, part of NMC’s new ongoing Ancora series, gives a good idea of what to expect. The series will deliver reissues of worthwhile recordings as well as releases of some material hitherto unavailable. Excellent performances by all concerned and production well up to NMC’s very best. You no longer have any excuse if you missed the original releases.

Hubert Culot

see also review of original and related releases by Len Mullenger

Thea Musgrave by Francis Routh

 



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