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Elizabeth MACONCHY (1907–1994)
Proud Thames (1952)a [5:58]
Symphony for Double String Orchestra (1953)b [21:50]
Serenata Concertante (1962)c [21:37]
Music for Strings (1983)d [18:21]
London Philharmonic Orchestraad; London Symphony
Orchestrabc; Vernon Handleyabc; Barry
rec. no information provided, published 1972, 1982 and 2007
Maconchy was a most distinguished composer, whose music is
still under-represented in terms of commercial recordings,
although her present discography is far from negligible.
The complete recording of her string quartets (possibly her
greatest achievement) is – fortunately enough – available
again at bargain price (on Regis) as are her Clarinet Concertinos
and Clarinet Quintet (on Helios, if I am not
mistaken), which on the whole is not too bad, but there is
so much that is still awaiting recording. Good news to know
that Odaline de la Martinez is apparently busy committing some
hitherto unrecorded works to disc for Lorelt. This is something
to watch for indeed. Appropriately released in the composer’s
centenary year, this Lyrita disc is thus most welcome since
it restores one of Maconchy’s masterpieces back into the
current catalogue, namely her magnificent Symphony
for Double String Orchestra, and offers the first
commercial recording of another major work, the Music
for Strings of 1983.
earliest work here is the overture Proud Thames composed
in 1952, some sort of English Vltava, although “the
Thames is shorter by many hundreds of miles than the Vltava” (Hugo
Cole). The music is simple, direct and colourfully scored.
A very fine concert opener all-too-rarely heard.
for Double String Orchestra is a fairly substantial
work in four neatly contrasting movements. The first
movement opens with a vigorous call to attention (a five-note
figure that will reappear later in the work, actually
in the final movement). The two string ensembles are
used either antiphonally or in unison, with some forceful
contrapuntal writing (actually one of Maconchy’s strengths).
The second movement opens with “a rocking figure” paving
the way for a richly melodic, impassioned theme, that
momentarily gives way to the sole violin’s reverie, but
the music moves irrepressibly forward towards a mighty
climax subsiding then into the opening mood before dissolving
into thin air. The third movement is a light-footed Scherzo
with the flavour of some rustic dance. The final movement
is a concise, but none the less imposing Passacaglia.
After the climax, the music again dies away calmly with
a quiet, slow restatement of the very opening of the
first movement. As already mentioned earlier in this
review, I firmly believe that this is one of Maconchy’s
greatest achievements and a magnificent work that should
have earned a permanent place in the repertoire.
very title of the Serenata Concertante clearly
suggests that much emphasis is laid on the symphonic nature
of the argument, which is possibly tighter than in the Symphony.
Indeed, the first movement opens with a short introduction
stating some basic material that will keep reappearing during
the course of the work. The introduction leads into the animated
Allegro main section. The second movement is a Scherzo. If
Bartók is often – and rightly – mentioned as an important
influence on Maconchy’s music, it is now Martinů who
sometimes comes to mind, at least in this particular movement.
The slow movement is a richly melodic and warmly lyrical
arch supported by soft brass chords, over which the soloist
freely muses. The work ends with a fairly extended Rondo,
in which material from the preceding movements is briefly
restated, thus emphasis the symphonic structure of the whole.
It nevertheless ends with a beautiful, calm coda, as did
for Strings, too, is in four movements. The dark-hued
introduction of the first movement sets the predominantly
sombre mood of the entire movement. The movement is another
fleeting Scherzo ending “in a wisp of sound”. The dark,
elegiac mood suggested by the viola in the first bars
of the third movement is sustained throughout the Mesto
that reaches an eloquent climax. The music slowly subsides
leaving the viola alone. The tense mood prevailing in
the preceding movements eventually brightens in the final
that concludes with “an insouciant throw away ending”.
On the whole, Music for Strings is a much
sterner, rather more understated work than the Symphony,
but one that any composer less modest than Maconchy would
have proudly called Second Symphony for Strings. Another
splendid piece of music, and a most welcome addition
to Elizabeth Maconchy’s discography.
am absolutely delighted to have these fine works by a beloved
composer back in the catalogue, especially in such beautifully
committed readings as these. This generous release is a must
for all lovers of Maconchy’s music; others will find much
beautiful music to enjoy here.
see also reviews by John
France and Rob Barnett
and an article by the composer's daughter
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