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Peggy GLANVILLE-HICKS (1912-1990)
Etruscan Concerto (Promenade; Meditation; Scherzo) (1954) [15:17]
Sappho - Final Scene (1963) [7:42]
Tragic Celebration (1966) [15:34]
Letters from Morocco for tenor and small orchestra (Wind, water, birds and animals; Man is hated in the Sahara; There are concerts here; I have found a new candy; The streets smell of orange-blossom; Sometimes at that hour there are drums; Toward sundown) (1952) [14:16]
Caroline Almonte (piano); Gerald English (tenor); Deborah Riedel (soprano).
Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra/Richard Mills, Antony Walker
Live Recording Recorded 17 September 1993 in the Odeon, Hobart 6-8, and 4 December 4, 5 December 5 and 6-7 December 2007 1-3 in Federation Concert Hall, Hobart
ABC CLASSICS 4763222 [52:57]
Experience Classicsonline

The name of Peggy Glanville-Hicks is forever entwined with the MGM LP label of the 1950s. They recorded the Viola Concerto (Concerto Romantico) (1955) with Walter Trampler and the Etruscan Concerto for piano and orchestra (1954). There is also a Concertino Antico for harp and orchestra (1955) but this was not recorded.

Glanville-Hicks was born in Melbourne and studied with Vaughan Williams, Boulanger and Wellesz. There were sojourns in Greece and the USA – Greece made a deep impression and she returned to live there. She learnt her theatrical craft - there are four operas and five ballets - working with Fritz Hart before his departure to Hawaii. She was married during the 1930s and 1940s to that mystery man of British music, Stanley Bate but this ended in divorce. 

The present disc is a collection in the third season of ABC's Australian Composer orchestral series. The Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra tale centre-stage in this project. There are four works here and the last of them is a song-cycle with orchestra. The latter has been licensed from Tall Poppies where it was previously issued on Tall Poppies TP112. 

The Etruscan Concerto is a souvenir of her Mediterranean years and of D.H. Lawrence's Etruscan Places (1933). Its foot-stamping first movement is flavoured with the carefree dances of Skalkottas and of The Isles of Greece by Donald Swann. As with her other concerto pieces there is just a suggestion of prolixity but there is much else to compensate. The central movement with its laggardly winding melodies and incense swirling slowness picks up on the ancient mysteries of the Etruscan civilisation – a Mediterranean connection also touched on in her Gymnopedies. The finale has much in common with the first movement but with a hint of Hovhaness and RVW. It seems that this concerto has also been recorded by Keith Jarrett but, sadly, I have not heard it. 

Glanville-Hicks delved into opera more than once. Her Sappho (1963) succeeded the opera Nausicaa (1961). Sappho was written with Callas in mind and to a commission by San Francisco Opera who then refused to perform it seemingly because of the predominance of modal tonality (Kurt Adler). This is the first substantial extract of Sappho to be recorded in the original scoring. I would like to hear the whole work. This is a pleasing if low-key soliloquy. It has a touch of Barber's Antony and Cleopatra but without that work’s flaming fervour. Deborah Riedel keeps the embers glowing and flaring. 

Tragic Celebration began life as the ballet score Jephtha's Daughter in which a rash oath results in Jephtha having to slay his own daughter. This orchestral piece has the redolence of Barber's Cave of the Heart with crackling violence and some tenderness. The piece ends touchingly with a silvery tintinnabulatory gleam. 

Recordings by Gerald English are as precious as warmth in winter. His voice is not part of the great homogeneous sea of tenors churned out on a production line. His voice has poignancy - a penetrating nasal quality, probing and ecstatic. Glanville-Hicks is well served by it. I treasure broadcast tapes of Radio 3 broadcasts by him including a superb account of Finzi's Oh Fair to See and the songs of Jasper Rooper. He is also well recalled for his role in Walton's Troilus and Cressida. 

Letters from Morocco were borne out of composer, Paul Bowles' letters to Glanville-Hicks. These were part of a forty year correspondence. Islamic muezzin ululation and spoken words are meshed and interleaved. The setting style is free-ranging and while tonal is intrepidly engaged with Brittenesque techniques and wildnesses we may associate with Our Hunting Fathers. These are wonderfully fragrant yet not fragile settings. They variously celebrate the remorseless Sahara, music heard on the warm nights, a hashish almond candy bar, orange blossom, evening drums and the oasis. The hashish bar song has a wandering oriental contour redolent of Hovhaness and Cowell. The seventh of the songs is simply spoken – there is no music. It’s a brave and successful close and a valorous tribute to the words of Paul Bowles. 

The words for Sappho and for Moroccan Letters are printed in full in the booklet.

Rob Barnett


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