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Thea MUSGRAVE (b. 1928)
Concerto for Orchestra (1967) [20:26] *
Clarinet Concerto (1969) [23:38] ** Sample
Horn Concerto (1971) [22:06] *** Sample
Monologue, for solo piano (1960) [6:02]
Excursions, eight duets for piano, four hands (1965) [9:51]
Gervase de Peyer (clarinet); Barry Tuckwell (horn); Thea Musgrave (piano); Malcolm Williamson (piano)
*Scottish National Orchestra/Alexander Gibson
**London Symphony Orchestra/Norman Del Mar
***Scottish National Orchestra/Thea Musgrave
rec. January 1974, City Hall, Glasgow (Concerto for Orchestra; Horn Concerto); January 1972, London Opera Center (Clarinet Concerto); September 1971, Kingsway Hall, London (Monologue; Excursions). ADD
LYRITA SRCD.253 [80.21]

Here’s a disc of Musgraves that’s packed to the rafters with her 1960s avant-gardism – let’s allow the 1971 Horn Concerto a sympathetic embrace with the previous decade. But it’s the Concerto for Orchestra that gets the disc off to a tensile start. It opens in with a dream-like vista gradually assailed by soundwash eruptions – tolling, intercessionary pizzicati, and the monumental contempt of the brass. The clarinet bears a strong solo role here, as it often does in Musgrave’s writing and in its quelling of the turmoil it dons the cajoling, quiescent conviction of an orator. This is music of purpose, drive and character. Again and again the clarinet deflects and defuses the quelling malevolence of other sections, notably the brass, and its quiet courage anticipates a brilliant, conclusive and affirmatory conclusion.
Suitably the Clarinet Concerto, written for Lyrita’s soloist Gervase de Peyer, follows the convulsive drama of the Concerto for Orchestra. It was written a couple of years later and sees the soloist moving from one section of the orchestra to another. Textures and colours are of rich complexity and the mobility and dexterity of the ideas are tremendously exciting, as well as being tremendously exacting as well. The stentorian brass and terse string lines are two parts of the aural equation because the percussive tattoos and the introverted wind lines all add their patina to the tumult. The writing becomes searing – if it could the music would incinerate itself – and the clarinet is sent increasingly high to carve out its own space.
Once again the next concerto followed after a two-year gap. Barry Tuckwell was the dedicatee of the Horn Concerto. There’s a prepared piano to add its own colour here and solo opportunities for violin and harp. The writing is powerfully dissonant and the soloist indulges in veritable Alpine pitch bending. The horn section, individually or collectively, echoes the solo protagonist or comments on him. There are some very fast jazzy runs for the horn – they put me in mind of the faster valve trombone jazz soloists of that era – and hints of some kind of affinity with Britten as well.
Monologue is a twelve-note piece written in 1960 for solo piano but not especially forbidding. There are some lovely games played in the furtive Fugato scherzevole section in particular. And finally there is the rather delightful Excursions. These are eight duets for piano, four hands, and they revel in games playing and charade wit. Try the car hooting in The Drunken Driver with its ensuing prang. Or the Misterioso Fog on the Motorway movement – delicious.
Whether dramatic or droll, this bipartite selection – big concertos and small piano works – has something for everyone; everyone that is who appreciates some healthy challenges and spatial awareness in their music.
Jonathan Woolf
see reviews by Mark Sealey and Rob Barnett

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