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Thea MUSGRAVE (b. 1928)
Concerto for Orchestra (1967) [20:26] *
Clarinet Concerto (1969) [23:38] ** Sample
Horn Concerto (1971) [22:06] *** Sample
Monologue, for solo piano (1960) [6:02]
Excursions, eight duets for piano, four hands (1965) [9:51]
Gervase de Peyer (clarinet); Barry Tuckwell (horn); Thea Musgrave (piano); Malcolm Williamson (piano)
*Scottish National Orchestra/Alexander Gibson
**London Symphony Orchestra/Norman Del Mar
***Scottish National Orchestra/Thea Musgrave
rec. January 1974, City Hall, Glasgow (Concerto for Orchestra; Horn Concerto); January 1972, London Opera Center (Clarinet Concerto); September 1971, Kingsway Hall, London (Monologue; Excursions). ADD
LYRITA SRCD.253 [80.21]


Victoria SoamesClarinet Concerto
Thea Musgrave article

Lyrita’s reputation was never as a champion of the avant-garde. Of course there was the odd exception – I think of their LP of the first two Searle symphonies – but in general the label spoke for the ‘conservative’ strain in British music. They were the David of the tonal voice in the period 1960-1980 when the Goliath of serialism held sway. The reborn label is now much more accommodating of the wide vista of British music and this disc of reissues is an example. It also fits within the name the label has made for rescuing lost analogue recordings under licence from the big names. From that perspective it sits alongside their discs of Grace Williams, Hoddinott, Mathias and Milner.

Musgrave has, since the early 1970s, lived in the USA where she has held several illustrious academic posts. Among her awards are a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Koussevitsky Award. A Scot, she was born in Midlothian and studied in Edinburgh with Hans Gál and in Paris with Boulanger. She struck up a close friendship with William Glock as her music moved towards serialism.

Her musical preoccupations include opera of which she has written fifteen; the latest being Simón Bolivar (1989-1992). There are other common threads including a concern with space, drama, movement and theatre. This is clear from the perambulations of the soloist notated in the score of the Clarinet Concerto. In addition there are spatial and motional directions in Chamber Concerto no.2 (1966), Concerto for Orchestra (1967), the Horn Concerto (1971) and as late as 1997 her orchestral work Phoenix Rising (1997) incorporates a floor plan and stage directions. She has written for Nicolas Daniel, Gervase de Peyer, Barry Tuckwell, Evelyn Glennie, Peter Pears and Julian Bream.

The orchestral music bristles with incident and its soloistic building blocks individually recall Stravinsky. Overall though the delicate, yet steely pointillistic effect is dissonant but fascinating. In the case of the Concerto for Orchestra the effect is like wandering through a surreal forest where the traveller is slapped, scratched and bombarded with a wealth of ideas and impressions. Some of these details are brazen but many are more subtle; everything seems superbly weighted and calculated. The clarinet plays a prominent role in this work which two years later was to be rewarded in the form of a Clarinet Concerto. In this work the instrumentalist moves from one part of the orchestra to another as the clarinet voice entwines and extricates itself from other groupings. The virtuosic clarinet line which delights in display and plangently touching reflection (15:50 sample) moves amongst an often busily varied orchestral skein in which light and air allows individual voices to emerge, shine and interact with the ever mobile clarinet. Two years after the Clarinet Concerto came the Horn Concerto – another typically poetic instrument – and two years after that came the Viola Concerto written for her husband Peter Mark. The Horn Concerto is of a piece stylistically speaking with the Clarinet Concerto – another fundamentally lyrical singing instrument on a pilgrimage amid dissonance. Musgrave is no stranger to tumultuous activity as we hear in the vituperative tempest of sound at 13:52 but this contrasts pleasingly with the gentle Bergian strings at 14:58 ( sample). Once again the composer’s sense of the continuity of sound with movement is reflected at one point in the directions that the orchestral horns move to different positions on the stage. Indeed if the management can run to three additional horns she asks that they play from the upper balcony. Naturally these aural-visual pieces of theatre tend to be lost to the listener to a sound-only CD – one of these days a DVD perhaps – I hope so.

The other works are for piano. First the composer plays her own Monologue originally written for Margaret Kitchin in 1960. It’s a short dodecaphonic piece – declamatory and with for me a certain bardic pride. The eight Excursions were written to be played by pupil and teacher at one piano. These are tonal, delightful (try the Pesante), full of vivid Arnoldian character although they have some of the pepper of Goossens too. And if they drift into Arthur Benjamin from time to time where’s the harm.

It should also be noted that the soloists in the two concertos are the artists for whom the works were written and who premiered them.

The disc is completed by what amounts to major encyclopedic entry for Musgrave by Calum Macdonald; the perfect companion to this listening experience.

Not typical fare for Lyrita but beguilingly done with fervent authority and great sensitivity.

Rob Barnett


SRCD.236 Finzi Clarinet Concerto
SRCD.316 British Horn Concertos
SRCD.325 Mathias Clarinet Concerto





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