Friday, June 12, 2015

Elizabeth Maconchy - Overture, Proud Thames - Symphony for Double String Orchestra - Serenata Concertante for Violin and Orchestra - Music for Strings - LPO, Vernon Handley & Barry Wordsworth - LSO, Vernon Handley - Lyrita (remastered 2007)

Here is a great recording from Lyrita that has done a tremendous service for many years, offering some of Elizabeth Maconchy's (1907-1994) most delightful (and well-crafted) large scale works. 

Elizabeth Maconchy was born in England but the family later settled in Ireland (Dublin). In 1923 she entered the Royal College of Music studying piano with Arthur Alexander and composition with Charles Wood; in a couple of years, she became a pupil of Vaughan Williams, saying later that "it was like turning on a light". Her progress at the Royal College was meteoric. She arrived as a shy Irish girl of 16 who knew only the music she could play for herself (there was no radio or gramophone in her house) yet by 1925 she was being referred to as 'Maestro Maconchy' by those who knew her. In 1927, moving on from writing songs and suites, she composed her first Violin Sonata and began her Piano Concertino. These striking works were already in a musical language far removed from mainstream English music (and the British pastoralists), and indicate her growing familiarity with European new music, which she was discovering for herself (Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky, Berg, Janacek...but especially Bartok). Several Patron's Fund orchestral performances confirmed her distinctive voice-in 1929 she left the Royal College of Music with glowing reports (Ralph Vaughan Williams: "I can teach her no more; she will go far").

The overture "Proud Thames" was written in 1952 as Maconchy's entry in a London County Council competition. It is bright-eyed and magical. Like Smetana's "Vltava" it traces the Thames from bubbling source to the Capital. It's a work of singing and sighing beguilement and of regal nobility. 

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 (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 solo 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 flavor 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. A wonderful work that should be 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 Bartok is often-and rightly-mentioned as an important influence on Maconchy's music, it is now Martinu 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 Serenata and the Symphony were made in association with the RVW Trust.
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 from the under-appreciated Elizabeth Maconchy.



Anonymous said...

This looks very interesting, will give it a listen. Always surprised by what I find on your blog. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and good tast.

Scraps said...

Oh, thank you! I suspected this was the one you had up your sleeve. I will listen immediately, probably four or five times in the next two days.

Toon van Dijk said...

Many thanks and regards from The Netherlands.
Veel dank en groeten uit Nederland.

La Danse de Puck said...

Now here is a great example of unknown GREAT composers.... I have most of her music! Thank you so much for posting this Lyrita of hers!!! Am a big fan!!!

Tzadik said...

Hey anon, thank you for taking a moment to comment, and for the kind words.
I hope you will do so again, as well as enjoy many visits here :)


Tzadik said...

Scraps you are quite welcome! Yes, this Lyrita disc was the first one I thought of, however I do have other stuff (cannot recall exact titles, but there's a few volumes "Female composers of the world"-or something similar, and i have those, plus something else I cannot recall at all. -I hope you enjoyed the disc!


Tzadik said...

Very welcome Toon~man


Tzadik said...

Hi La Danse...

Thank you for commenting, I appreciate that very much.

This is a great example of stellar music by a neglected composer indeed (perhaps Naxos or Toccata will help the cause in the can hope!)