Elizabeth MACONCHY (1907-1994)
Orchestral Music
The Land - a suite for orchestra (1930) [16:27]
Concertino for piano and chamber orchestra (1928) [14:35]
Music for Woodwind and Brass (1966) [9:00]
Symphony for Double String Orchestra (1952-53) [23:48]
Clelia Iruzun (piano)
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/Odaline de la Martinez
rec. City Halls, Glasgow, 23-24 March 2009. DDD
LORELT LNT 133 [64:05]

Next year (2012) will see Lorelt's twentieth anniversary. They are a small label but one with a mission that has added pearly grit to the diverse world that is classical music on record. All credit to Odaline de la Martinez, its guiding hand and kindly light. Lorelt majors in contemporary, in the music of female composers and in the music of Latin-American composers.

Before setting up the label she had conducted and recorded Dame Ethel Smyth's opera The Wreckers for Conifer (CDCF250) in 1994 and Smyth's (never 'Dame Smyth', Lorelt) orchestral music (Symposium) including the wonderful Double Concerto for Chandos (CHAN9449). I hope that she will record Smyth's The Prison; it's much needed and de la Martinez would make a penetrating job of this fabled work which was championed by Boult on the BBC in the 1930s. The Smyth Mass is already on an EMI-Virgin disc but by another conductor, Philip Brunelle.

Lorelt already have one Maconchy disc which is uniform in cover style - Choral Music. Landscapes by William le Fanu are common to these discs and also to the Lyrita which overlaps with the Symphony.

The Land and the Concertino date from Maconchy's earliest years of continental success. A favoured pupil of Vaughan Williams, her music has only the lightest shading of his influence. The music usually feels more twentieth century 'European' than English pastoral. The parallels are more strongly with Bartók though you can hear RVW at 2:56 in the chattering Concertino. There are also occasional flurries of Lambert, Grainger (1:05) and de Falla.

The Land is in four movements each inspired by seasonal segments of Vita Sackville-West's poem and in the score each has a superscription of lines from the poem: Winter, Spring, Summer, Autumn. Winter is one huge tolling movement toward climax. Spring rushes along with a bustle at first close to Tippett but at times touching base with Bliss. Maconchy's Summer reaches longingly through the heat-haze towards RVW's ‘scholar gipsy’ but the background pulse has the softly indomitable pulse of Holst's Neptune. Raucous wild-eyed Autumn reminds me of Constant Lambert's lively Horoscope. It also has the same headlong belligerence as the Glazunov Autumn but a very different language.

The Music for Woodwind and Brass is gaunt and wintry. Designed for Thaxted church in Essex - Holst's stamping ground - it was written for 20 players disposed in accordance with the layout of the building. It's a moody and chastening piece which suggests autumn's skeletal leaves and wintry thoughts with occasional braying onslaughts from some savage apocalypse.

The Symphony is not new to the catalogue. It has also been recorded by Lyrita where it comes with the Serenade. The Allegro molto is a joyous affair. It's a sort of blend of Tippett's Double Concerto, carnival and spiky Bartók. There's a tenderly impassioned Lento, a delicately dancing Allegro scherzando again echoing Tippett and adding the tricky street rhythms of Rio to the broth. The Passacaglia includes some skirls that are reminiscent of their equivalents in Britten's Serenade (The Splendour Falls). The players are divided into two string groups.

The recording places the players assertively in the foreground.

Among Maconchy's long worklist we know the string quartets from the Unicorn project reissued by Forum. We need a recording of the fine large-scale cantata Abelard and Heloise broadcast circa 1978 by the BBC.

You can read an article about Maconchy by Nicola LeFanu, the composer’s daughter, herself a distinguished composer. Maconchy’s Oboe Quintet was recorded in 1933 during those early wonder years. This can be heard on Dutton CDBP 9762 from The Griller Quartet and Helen Gaskell (oboe).

This disc, superbly documented, designed and musically executed is now the Maconchy orchestral collection of choice. It is less severe than the decidedly impressive Lyrita yet more immediately captivating. Just don't expect leafy byways. Maconchy knows joy but her pleasurable way tends towards the serious.

Rob Barnett

The Maconchy orchestral collection of choice.