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Geraldine MUCHA (1917-2012)
Overture to The Tempest (rev 1964) [5:06]
Macbeth Suite (1965) [11:49]
Songs of John Webster (1975): No. 1. Hark, now everything is still [6:24]: No. 2. Call for the robin-red-breast and the wren [2:27]: No. 3. All the flowers of the spring [3:48]
Piano Concerto (1961) [23:08]
Sixteen Variations on an Old Scottish Song (1954) [9:50]
Ivana Troupová (soprano)
Patricia Goodson (piano)
Hradec Králové Philharmonic Orchestra/Andreas Sebastian-Weiser
rec. 2013-15, Králové Philharmonic Hall, Czech Republic
ARCO DIVA UP0192 2231 [62:57]

Geraldine Mucha spans a British-Czech musical and artistic divide. She was born Geraldine Thomson in Scotland in 1917, and as a girl was tutored by Arnold Bax and then at the Royal Academy in London by William Alwyn and Alan Bush. An early ballet, Nausicaa, won Constant Lambert’s praise and her first Piano Quintet was premiered at the Wigmore Hall in 1943. In 1945 though, she and her husband, Jiří Mucha, son of Alphonse, a foremost exponent of Art Nouveau, moved to Prague. She was Mucha’s second wife; his first had been the tragically short-lived composer Vítězslava Kaprálová and in this connection some may know that Mucha had written the Czech libretto for the Field Mass by Martinů, Kaprálová’s teacher.

Her life in Czechoslovakia was not always easy, to put things mildly – Mucha was sent to labour in the uranium mines for several years on the predictable trumped-up charge of espionage – but she was not without supporters, such as Rafael Kubelík. Her music has been recorded before but not often, so this conspectus is very welcome. Her Overture to the Tempest was written when she was a student but revised in 1964 and first performed in 2015, three years after her death. It’s full of magus-like sonorities, lyrical themes, saucy wind arabesques and couched in rich, aromatic romanticism. Acting on a suggestion that she write something for the newly established Australian Ballet Company she wrote music for the ballet Macbeth, though in the end no production was given. From it she extracted a suite, and this was premiered in Prague in 1965 and later recorded by Supraphon. There are five brief scenes in the suite and they include much that is visual-dramatic, from barely suppressed unease, hints of bagpipes, skirling brass and the play of wind and brass. She utilises both brass and percussion to generate the ghostly tableau of the sleepwalking scene.

In 1975 she wrote three John Webster songs for soprano and piano and they were first performed by Jill Gomez and John Constable. This orchestral version followed some years later. Peter Warlock set these songs but Mucha’s muse is altogether tougher, of course, her harmonies more biting. There are brief melismatic passages and if the words are not always especially clear Ivana Troupová sings well, coping gamely with texts that are tough enough at the best of times for English speakers.

Her Piano Concerto was composed in 1961 and first performed by Ludmila Tržická with the great Karel Šejna conducting; they also recorded it. Though it may seem to flirt with neo-classicism it really cleaves closer to her established romantic credentials. There are the Highlands to be heard here – not least in a quotation from the folk tune There is no’ ma plaid - as well as some filmic colour, ripe chording and orchestration alike, and hieratic brass calls. The way the piano muses in the central panel of the first movement, winds dancing all the while, is especially piquant. She urges the central slow movement onwards – no false sentiment for Mucha; affection, yes - and unleashes an exciting fresh-faced gallop in the finale, remaining a true daughter of her native land in the lineage of Alexander Mackenzie and an English interloper like James Hook, the finale of whose Keyboard Concerto is a Scottish paean in a rather different vein. The disc closes with Sixteen Variations on an Old Scottish Song. Like Britten thinking of Crabbe and Rebecca Clarke remembering folk songs in their American years, so Geraldine Mucha turned to Ca’ the yowes in 1954 for this expressive, exciting, rhythmically vital ten-minute piano solo, the longest she wrote.

American pianist Patricia Goodson plays commendably in both the concerto and the variations; she is a strong reason for the success of this disc, as is the contribution of the Hradec Králové Philharmonic Orchestra under their astute director Andreas Sebastian Weiser in a well-engineered recording. The dual language Czech-English booklet, is very helpful. The standout work here is the Piano Concerto in my view but it’s a testament to Mucha’s skill that those interested in her life and milieu should be eager to acquaint themselves with her ingenious scores.

Jonathan Woolf

 

 




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