Margaret Hubicki celebrates
her 90th birthday in July 2005 and a disc devoted to
her music is very timely. As far as I can tell, little of it has
been recorded before. All the pieces featured here are first recordings
except for Lonely Mere and Rigaudon. They were recorded
a few years ago by Catherine Wilmers as part of an interesting
multi-composer disc consisting entirely of the cello music of
20th century British female composers (ASV CDQS 6245).
This is now deleted but would be well worthy of re-issue.
Margaret (a.k.a. Peggy)
Hubicki was born Margaret Mullins, grew up in Hampstead and studied
under Benjamin Dale at the Royal Academy of Music. In 1940 she
married Bohdan Hubicki, a Canadian violinist of Ukrainian parentage.
Three months later he was killed and she badly injured in an air
raid. Thereafter she spent much of her life as a professor of
harmony at the Royal Academy, teaching inter alia John
Tavener and James Galway. The musicians performing on this disc
are all former pupils and Frederick Stocken, who contributes excellent
notes, tell us that the disc is a ninetieth birthday tribute “to
a much loved mentor”. The rear of the booklet contains a dedication
from the composer to the memory of her husband and a picture of
them together, Bohdan holding his violin.
Hubicki’s music is
tonal, strong on atmosphere and sometimes reminded me of John
Ireland. Whilst not pushing back any boundaries, its apparent
neglect is undeserved and these recordings are very welcome. The
opener, From the Isles of the Sea is a very fine
piece of tone painting, its inspiration derived from isle of Iona,
a frequent holiday destination. Here, the flute of Daniel Pailthorpe
conjures a feeling of timelessness.
The piano sonata which
follows is an early three-movement work which Margaret performed
at the Royal Academy and was then left unplayed for seventy years.
The re-discovery of the manuscript in 2003 apparently provided
the impetus for the making of this disc. Forms are conventional
but the idiom agreeable. Most striking is the lyrical central
slow movement and the finale reminds me a little of Shostakovich
(presumably not an influence - he was in his 20s when this was
written). James Kirby’s rendition certainly does the music justice.
Full Fathom Five
is a setting of the song from Shakespeare’s The Tempest.
Beautifully sung by Annemarie Sand, the sole regret is that it
is the only vocal piece on the disc. The theme and variations
for string quartet which follows is based on a folk-like tune
with six linked variations. Hubicki seems at home in both form
and medium – if there are any string quartets languishing out
there, they should be heard! Therein lies my one slight criticism
of the documentation – it doesn’t indicate what else the composer
Irish Fantasy is a
delightful series of four sketches for piano entitled The lonely
piper, The Banshee’s Dance, The Sorrow of Etaine
and Reel. Sometime later Hubicki orchestrated the work
and it became quite well known, being performed under the batons
of Henry Wood and Malcolm Sargent.
Lonely Mere and
Rigaudon were inspired by the Malvern Hills and are dedicated
to “MJM” (May Mukle perhaps?). In 1936 they received a performance
at the Wigmore by Peers Coetmore (E.J. Moeran’s wife). The former
is intensely lyrical, creating a feeling of great space. The latter
provides a suitably jaunty foil.
(which is Italian for “unfolding”) was written for Bohdan to play
- presumably accompanied by Margaret - and was intended as the
first movement of a violin sonata. It is understandable if regrettable
that she never completed it because this is one of the most interesting
works on the disc. The Goladon Suite which concludes the
disc is in four short movements but is rather less inspired. Certainly
no great virtuosity is required and aspiring piano duettists might
well like to seek this out.
To sum up, unfamiliar
worthwhile music in performances and sound which are at a very
high standard. A heart-warming disc, well-presented and with a
title to ponder – happy birthday Margaret Hubicki.
Patrick C Waller