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Thea MUSGRAVE (born 1928)
Concerto for Clarinet & Orchestra (1968)
The Seasons (1988)
Autumn Sonata* (Concerto for Bass Clarinet and Orchestra) (1993)
Victoria Soames (clarinet and *bass clarinet)
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/Thea Musgrave
Rec. Glasgow City Hall, April 1996 DDD
Clarinet Classics CC0035 [73:14]

This disc presents three interesting works by Thea Musgrave, a Scottish composer who has been based in the USA for over thirty years. For this recording she returned to her native land as conductor and she also guides us through the music in the booklet. In the concertos, the soloist is Victoria Soames, who founded the Clarinet Classics label in 1992.

Unlike the other two works on the disc, the Clarinet Concerto has no specific programme. It is in six sections forming a single movement and requires the soloist to move around the orchestra to lead various smaller concertante groups. Whilst fundamentally dramatic in nature, there are reflective moments (notably the fourth section, headed Sensuoso). The solo part demands a wide range of expression and is played with consummate skill by Victoria Soames.

The Seasons was commissioned by the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. Inevitably, it is in four movements, starting with Autumn. A violent storm in Autumn leads to a Winter of despair, a thaw into an ultimately serene Spring and a Summer of slightly muted celebration. Whilst each movement has its own distinct themes and mood there is an overall unity based on specific harmonic elements. The inspiration for this work came from a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and each season is associated with a specific picture (these are by Picasso, Leutze and two by van Gogh). There are also quotations (from The Star Spangled Banner in Winter, and the US and French National Anthems in Summer) which I find less problematic than John France in his recent review. The disc was also reviewed by Len Mullenger in 1998 and we all seem to share a general enthusiasm for the music and performances (see below for links).

The last piece is the Bass Clarinet Concerto, depicting an autumnal dream landscape and based on the poetry of Georg Trakl. Each of the six short and contrasting sections is associated with particular quotations (which are given in full in the booklet) and the mood is generally sombre, fully utilizing the impressive bass register of the solo instrument. Victoria Soames commissioned this piece and is highly sympathetic to its dark but powerful nature. For me, this is the most striking of the three pieces recorded here but all are well worth exploring.

Her style is individual, being influenced by both traditional and serial methods, and she skilfully juxtaposes dramatic and lyrical elements.

These performances can be regarded as definitive. The recording is clear and always well-balanced. In summary, a highly successful disc.

Patrick C Waller

see also reviews by John France and Len Mullenger

Thea Musgrave by Francis Routh

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