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Geraldine MUCHA (1917-2012)
Stamic Quartet
Prague Wind Quintet
Patricia Goodson, Alena Grillová (piano)
Vilém Veverka (oboe), Jan Machat (flute)
rec. 2015, Studio Martinék, Prague
BRILLIANT 95463 [79:25]

Geraldine Mucha’s music appeared not so long ago on Arco Diva where pianist Patricia Goodson was also a central presence. A little of Mucha’s biography is contained in that review.

The chamber works in this disc and the august interpreters involved, prominently the Stamic Quartet and the Prague Wind Quintet, show the esteem the British-born Mucha won toward the end of her life, after many troubled years in a hostile Czech environment. Mucha (born Geraldine Thomson to a Scottish father and an English mother) wrote her First String Quartet in 1944 at the age of 27. Like Elizabeth Maconchy and Stephen Dodgson in their early chamber music she drew on a variety of European influences, notably Bartók and Janáček, to enrich her writing both rhythmically and timbrally. Probably their enthusiasm for ethnomusicological exploration chimed with her own; certainly, it seems to have had a liberatingly outward-looking influence as this quartet teems with youthful vitality. The central Dumka is the most overtly folkloric music – one of her teachers was William Alwyn who, whilst not as wedded to direct folk influence in his own quartets, did explore this element – and is full of Moravian-Bohemian village fiddling. The finale’s Carpathian dance with emphatic drones carouses through a brilliantly exciting finale. The influence of her husband’s homeland – she had married Jiří Mucha in London in 1942 – is immediately apparent.

Over forty years later came the Second String Quartet of 1988 , though in the Mucha Archive there is what is chronologically speaking the second quartet of 1970 but which she put aside. It’s the 1970 work that is performed here. Mucha had left Czechoslovakia in 1968 and lived in Scotland where the quartet was written. It’s in one movement and not quite fourteen minutes long. Its fluid transitions and sense of expressive plangency are attractive features as is the appearance of a Scottish folk dance which erupts with great confidence. The Wind Quintet dates from 1998 – she returned to Prague after the Velvet Revolution – and is also in one movement though clearly sectional. Flowing espressivo leads on to a Baroque-styled Hunting motif and a clarinet cadenza that Peter Reed notes in the booklet is Gershwin-like – maybe, maybe not – and also to a flavoursome Scottish panel. She is in full command of the many sections, motifs, metres and stylistic varieties of her music, which is a welcome addition to the wind quintet repertoire.

Epitaph (in Memory of Jiří Mucha) utilises The Skye Boat Song for a set of variations for oboe, flute and string quartet. Maybe it’s not too sentimental to see the two wind instruments as representing husband and wife, borne aloft over the string quartet cushion, as the music develops its calm, eloquent profile before embracing a Scotch Snap both ebullient and joyful and seeming to be both an epitaph and a celebration of their life together. The song is quoted in full at the seven-minute mark. Britten’s Lachrymae is the obvious model. Our Journey, for flute and piano, is an eleven-minute pastoral full of long-breathed lyricism and with a richly verdant B section, beautifully played by flautist Jan Machat and pianist Alena Grillová.

Patricia Goodson is one of the composer’s most staunch interpreters and there is a sequence of solo piano works to exemplify the variety of Mucha’s compositions. In the Sixteen Variations on an Old Scottish Song, as I wrote in my previous review, the music explores a similar impulse to that of Britten and Rebecca Clarke as they remembered native folk song during their American years. Mucha turned to Ca’ the yowes in 1954 for this expressive, exciting, rhythmically vital ten-minute piano solo that takes in late-impressions and Bartókian influence and is the longest solo piano piece she wrote. This appears to be a case of Goodson competing with herself, as the Arco Diva performance was recorded in Králové Philharmonic Hall whilst this Brilliant one was taped in Studio Martinék in Prague. Timings are identical. The other piano pieces are all very brief character studies written for friends in Prague.

This is an eloquently programmed and performed tribute to Geraldine Mucha, a Scottish Bohemian at home in both musical worlds.

Jonathan Woolf

String Quartet No 1 (1944) [16:07]
String Quartet No 2 (1970) [13:42]
Variations on an Old Scottish Song (1954) [9:50]
Tempo di mazurka (early 2000s) [1:36]
Karel František Josef (early 2000s) [0:30]
Minna Loveday DeCandole (early 2000s) [0:26]
Freddie DeCandole (early 2000s) [0:34]
Lullaby for Alisdair (early 2000s) [1:04]
For Erika (early 2000s) [1:47]
Naše cesta (Our Journey) (2008) [10:40]
Wind Quintet (1998) [13:45]
Epitaph (In Memory of Jiří Mucha) [8:13]

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