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THEA MUSGRAVE Orchestral Music


Scottish Chamber Orchestra/Nicholas Kraemer/Nicholas Daniel (oboe) BBC Symphony Orchestra/Jac van Steen

NMC Ancora D074 [TT: 79'34]

This is an important first release in a series which chimes with the aims of Musical Pointers. It brings together fine orchestral music by a leading expatriate Scottish born composer, who is less often heard in UK since she went to live, teach, compose and conduct in USA. Thea Musgrave (b.1928) goes back to a time when it was uncommon and hard for a woman composer to make headway.

Colin Matthews, introducing the NMC Ancora series, deplores the accountants-led business which dictates that recordings of new music rarely remain available for long before being deleted; NMC never deletes: their whole catalogue back to 1989, is permanently available.

Memento Vitae is one of a series of quasi-theatrical concertante works Musgrave conceived in the 1960s and '70s and incorporates quotations from Beethoven absorbed into Thea Musgrave's own language, a clash between F major and C sharp outbursts from the finale of Beethoven's Eighth Symphony underpinning the entire structure. Beethoven's storm in the Pastoral, Dona Nobis Pacem and the chorale theme from Op 132 make their appearances, the work ending with feelings of desolation and lamentation; an eventful, exciting modern work; no pastiche!

The other pieces have been released previously on the regrettably defunct Collins label. Helios (1994) which integrates musical and dramatic ideas in a true interplay of soloists and tutti, the solo oboe the leader and energiser, sharing virtuosity with concertante players. After a storm subsides, a cadenza for oboe leads to a quiet coda, "woodwind imitate the rippling of the ocean stream as Helios completes his journey round the world".

Night Music (1969) features two horn players, who move around the platform, in a soloistic and dramatic way. Moods change quickly, contrasted musical sections interchanging and even at times overlapping.

The Seasons (1988) interested me less; it seemed heavily dependent on pictures in New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art as sources but the idiom is less exploratory than Musgrave's works of the '60s & '70s. We are told that certain harmonic elements run through the entire work: a single chord (C, E flat, G, B) in every movement, eventually incorporated "freedom chords", and another augmented chord (B flat, D, F sharp) appears in each movement.

(Descriptions abbreviated from Thea Musgrave's own notes.)


© Peter Grahame Woolf