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Elizabeth MACONCHY (1907-1994)
Overture, Proud Thames (1952) [5:58] *
Symphony for Double String Orchestra (1953) [21:50] **
Serenata Concertante for Violin and Orchestra (1962) [21:37] **
Music for Strings (1983) [18:21] ***
* London Philharmonic Orchestra/Vernon Handley
** Manoug Parikian (violin)
London Symphony Orchestra/Vernon Handley
***London Philharmonic Orchestra/Barry Wordsworth
rec. 1970, 1979, 1977. ADD
LYRITA SRCD.288 [67.50]


This is the only CD of Maconchy's orchestral music although it seems that Lorelt have one in the works. It makes for compelling if sometimes stern listening.

The overture Proud Thames was written in 1952 as Maconchy’s entry in a London County Council competition. It is bright-eyed and magical. Like Smetana's Vltava it traces the Thames from bubbling source to the Capital. It's a work of singing and sighing beguilement and of regal nobility. It made me think of John Veale's Panorama, broadcast earlier this year on BBC Radio 3.

A year later, in Coronation year, came something altogether more serious in the shape of the Symphony for Double String Orchestra. A fandango pizzicato in the first movement leavens the mix. After a torridly poignant even searing heartfelt Lento comes the buoyantly sanguine Allegro scherzando again with an Iberian accent. The concluding Passacaglia recalls the more sombre string writing of William Alwyn.

The solo violin contributes prominently to the Symphony. In the Serenata Concertante it is centre-stage. Not a full blown concerto, the title prepares us for the mildly astringent yet smoothly troubadour romantic style. It is as if Walton on the one hand were meeting Frankel on the other. The Serenata was a Feeney Trust commission premiered by Manoug Parikian and the CBSO conducted by Hugo Rignold in October 1963. For all the ‘Serenade’ stem of the title the music is ambivalent as evidenced by the Kodaly-like luxuriance of the pinnacle of the first movement. The scherzo flickers with accessible rhythmic interest part-coloured by Bartók. The andante is magically and majestically slow of pulse. The pecking hunting motif adumbrated by solo violin, horns and others recalls Shostakovich and then swings back to Kodaly again. The work closes by sinking into a warm Bergian dream.

The Serenata and Symphony were made in association with the RVW Trust.

Music for Strings is fresh to commercial recording. It is in four movements like it substantial companions here. It was a commission for the 1983 Proms. The recording possesses a warmer halo around the strings by comparison with the analogue recordings of 1972 and 1982. The textures are romantic and sumptuous, you could warm your hands by them on a cold day. This is a work by turns playful (Scherzo; Allegro) and melancholy yet reticent (Mesto). It has the pliable buoyancy of the Dag Wirén Serenade for Strings and the jazzy syncopations of Leonard Bernstein.

Let us hope that Lyrita or others will oblige with a recording of Maconchy's Symphony for full orchestra and the large-scale cantata Abelard and Heloise.

Rob Barnett

see also Maconchy String Quartets

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