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Thea Musgrave's opera for radio An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge;
Green; Wild Winter I

Jake Gardner, baritone
Gayle Hunnicutt, narrator
London Sinfonietta/Thea Musgrave
Red Byrd/Fretwork
Scottish Ensemble


Being of an age with Thea Musgrave, noted opera composer, I have vivid memories of the pre-TV BBC radio plays, with simple sound effects and incidental music, which Thea recreates, with a difference, in An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.

In 1981, she began this work about the American Civil War with an extensive continuous musical score, featuring baritone Jake Gardner and adding speech and sound effects. Composed following her move to the USA and marriage there, Musgrave's ‘opera for radio’, whilst of huge historical interest has, I fear, become very dated and for contemporary sensibilities it is no longer quite the "heart-breaking story" intended.

However, the CD taken as a whole is highly recommendable and the other two works (all three are "about conflict") are masterpieces.

Green for strings (the excellent Scottish Ensemble, is abstract musical drama, with the double bass initiating a disruptive, eventually threatening incursion. Wild Winter 1 (Lamentations for voices and viols) combines texts in various languages (parallel translations are provided) merging cries of protest into "a sonic tapestry of shared experience".

With the voices of Red Byrd (Suzie LeBlanc a notably steady, pure soprano) and the viols of Fretwork, this is a treasurable recorded broadcast from 1993.

These are Radio 3 archive recordings which were not amongst the vast number which were destroyed for space saving without forethought, to indescribable loss of historical treaures, many of which may only exist in private tapings.

Peter Grahame Woolf

See also Musgrave's Towards the Blue, premiered recently at Wigmore Hall