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Elizabeth MACONCHY (1907–1994)
Proud Thames (1952) a [5:58]
Symphony for Double String Orchestra (1953)b [21:50]
Serenata Concertante (1962)c [21:37]
Music for Strings (1983)d [18:21]
Manoug Parikian (violin)c
London Philharmonic Orchestra ad; London Symphony Orchestra bc; Vernon Handley abc; Barry Wordsworth d
rec. no information provided, published 1972, 1982 and 2007
LYRITA SRCD288 [67:50]

Maconchy rightly has a disc to herself in Lyrita’s re-release package, which combines recordings made at long intervals in 1972, 1982 and 2007. The works are presented in chronological order, starting with Proud Thames of 1952 and ending with Music for Strings, which was written in 1983.
Proud Thames is a confident, compact, assertive and brisk work lasting six minutes. It opens with some flute dapple and the reminiscences or at least sly allusions to Vltava are not, surely, coincidental. But it has its own sense of self and of place and the bristling directness of the writing certainly invites thoughts that the Thames is no pushover. One doesn’t find wedding parties on these banks.
The Symphony for Double String Orchestra was written the following year and is cast in four movements. Its rhythmic profile is varied, its texture equally so, though it wears a stern and unbending face as well. Manoug Parikian takes the solo violin role well, especially when he’s pushed very high in the Lento where the powerfully expressive writing is at its most acute. Perhaps the most outstanding movement however, not omitting the bustling scherzo, is the Passacaglia finale, which has considerable gravity and weight splendidly realised in this performance.
The Serenata Concertante followed in 1962 is another strong four-movement work. It’s rather Berg-like in the opening and opens out with pizzicati, trumpet calls and strong lyrical curlicues. The brass is again to the fore in the Scherzo along with the percussion but the winds take on a rather more exotic panoply; the solo violin even takes on a brief, folkloric hue in the solo passages; strong echoes of Bartók here. Maconchy again takes the violin exceptionally high in the slow movement  - and her shimmering orchestration gives the music an almost phantasmagoric element – menacing and ominous. The start of the finale sees the solo violin – Parikian again – picking up on the Bartókian elements but as the movement progresses the finely chiselled writing reverts to the Bergian impulses of the opening, giving the Serenata a rewarding and satisfyingly symmetrical feel.
Music for Strings was a much later work, written in 1983. It flits between the opening’s Bartókian Nocturne and a more refined, rather aloof Mesto. Then it defenestrates expectation entirely in the amazing finale, a compound of Copland, Bernstein, ragtime, Robert Russell Bennett and goodness knows what else. If you think you know your Maconchy you’d better be sure that you know this movement.
Thought provoking and extremely well played this is a valuable addition to Maconchy on disc. Not always an easy listen, it’s true, but all the more rewarding for it.

Jonathan Woolf

see also reviews by Hubert Culot, Rob Barnett and John France
Lyrita Catalogue


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