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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]
Manoug Parikian (violin)c
London Philharmonic Orchestraad; London Symphony Orchestrabc; Vernon Handleyabc; Barry Wordsworthd
rec. no information provided, published 1972, 1982 and 2007
LYRITA SRCD.288 [67:50]

Elizabeth 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.
The 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.
The Symphony 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.
The 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 the Symphony.
The Music 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.
I 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.

Hubert Culot

see also reviews by John France and Rob Barnett

and an article by the composer's daughter

Lyrita catalogue 


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