To achieve this recorded trilogy of works by Scots composer Thea Musgrave, NMC has pulled together various recordings from separate BBC Proms seasons. The earliest dates from 1998, and a performance by Lisa Milne and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Osmo Vänskä of Songs for a Winter's Evening, written in 1995 in response to a joint commission by the Dumfries and Galloway Arts Festival and Burns International Festival. Milne weaves the warm, lyrical lines of these Burns settings with soaring affection, underpinned by Musgrave's luxurious and highly allusive orchestration. Indeed, all three of the works featured here demonstrate a far softer harmonic language than much of the composer's earlier music without lacking emotive clout. Two's Company, a concerto for oboe, percussion and orchestra performed here by the BBC Symphony Orchestra with soloists Evelyn Glennie and Nicolas Daniel, evolves softly from elemental beginnings to moments that explode with volcanic effervescence. Glennie and Daniel form a dynamic pair of protagonists. The same orchestra under Vänskä gives a surging account of Turbulent Landscapes, which – rather like Britten's Sea Interludes – paint vivid pictures in sound. [4 STARS]Kenneth Walton, The Scotsman, 7/13/2009
[Just as Thomas Wilson (below) left his native America for Scotland,] so Thea Musgrave left her native Scotland for Virginia. The oceanic passage is hinted at in Turbulent Landscapes a set of six orchestral reactions to Turner canvases, of which Sunrise with Sea Monsters is the first and wittiest (a tuba plays the monster) and Snow Storm: Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps is the most mysterious and fugitive. Musgrave's experimentalism of the1960s - the anarchic Clarinet Concerto! - has given way to a mature style which almost always relies on some dramatic element not always clearly stated. She remains a wonderful and dramatic melodist, something of the simple power in her opera Mary, Queen of Scots reflected in the Songs for Winter's Evening sung by Lisa Milne in a neat orchestral score. Something of the subversive, playful Musgrave returns on Two's Company, a double concerto for percussionist Evelyn Glennie and oboist Nicholas Daniel.Jim Haynes, The Wire, 7/1/2009
NMC celebrated its 20th anniversary with its Songbook set, but this latest disc, featuring a triptych of Musgrave’s works in wonderful performances from all concerned, is typical of what makes the label important. Two’s Company, a double concerto for percussionist Evelyn Glennie and oboist Nicholas Daniel, typifies the drama inherent in Musgrave’s tonally-based, inventive language. In concert the stage movements of the soloists their opposition and gradual harmonious intertwining, but it is also highly effective as a purely musical journey.
Turbulent Landscapes takes its inspiration from paintings by Turner (sadly not reproduced in the booklet), creating six aural canvasses. The pictorial is always apparent, Debussy’s approach being evoked with distant snatches of La Marseillaise; Musgrave has clearly enjoyed constructing scenarios around the paintings.... Song for a Winter’s Evening is an endearing song cycle charting a woman’s life and loves through texts by Robert Burns. It draws on the tunes for Burns’s verses, yet these are unmistakably, and beautifully contemporary reminiscences, sung exquisitely by Lisa Milne. [FOUR STARS]Christopher Dingle, BBC Music Magazine, 9/1/2009
Thea Musgrave is a modern master of the orchestra. In her Turner-inspired Turbulent Landscapes she sounds thoroughly contemporary while remaining true to her tonal roots. It’s thrilling rollercoaster of invention, brought to life in this live Proms performance by Vanska and the BBC SO. Belolhavek is joined by Evelyn Glennie and Nicholas Daniel, for a gloriously seductive 20-minute double concerto (Two’s Company), then the BBC Scottish joins Lisa Milne for Songs for a Winter’s Evening, a sensual score that should appeal to lovers of Mahler.Julian Haylock, Classic FM magazine, 9/1/2009
...an excellent CD, musically and aurally. It is wonderfully realized by all concerned. If British music is important to you then do seek this out. The scores are approachable and fulfilling for audience and performers alike. Masterworks in fact. Read full reviewGary Higginson, Musicweb International, 9/28/2009
Songs for a Winter’s Evening sets seven Burns lyrics, including such familiar items as “Ca’ the yowes” and “Ye banks and braes”, in ways which acknowledge their folksy associations while opening them out to a more opulent, romanticised idiom. The result has a very positive, personal perspective. By contrast, Musgrave’s no less individual response to a group of Turner’s paintings in Turbulent Landscapes is a triumph: cogently structured yet uninhibitedly pictorial encapsulations of these canvases which manage to be economical, witty and distinctively expressive all at the same time.
Two’s Company adds to Musgrave’s sequence of concertos in which the obvious contrast between soloist(s) and orchestra is enhanced by allowing the soloists to move around the performance space, challenging and responding to different groups of supporting (or opposing) instruments. Here the unusual pairing of oboe and percussion suggests a progression from initial disparity to eventual unanimity. All three live performances come across well in recordings that bring Musgrave’s myriad instrumental felicities: but Turbulent Landscapes is the stand-out success.
Arnold Whittall, Gramophone , 12/1/2009
Thea Musgrave (b. 1928) is a Scottish composer who’s lived the past several decades in the U.S., though she remains thoroughly trans-Atlantic in her career and perspective. She’s been particularly successful in that very difficult field of contemporary opera (for example, her Mary Queen of Scots comes close to being a hit—at the very least a piece that is repeatedly revived). And not too surprisingly, her compositional voice is extremely adept with the dramatic and the pictorial. This collection shows off those strengths.
Turbulent Landscapes (2003) is a suite of six pieces, each based on a different painting by J. M. W. Turner. Since the painter is one of my favorites, I was favorably disposed to this piece before I heard a note. The good news is that the music not only fulfills its programmatic mandate, but also evokes an identifiable world of its own. It’s rich in detail and arabesque; it throbs, pulsates, and swirls like natural phenomena, in particular fluid ones; and it’s masterfully orchestrated, both in its washes of sound and florid writing for soloists.
The Songs of a Winter’s Evening (1995) is a setting of seven poems by Robert Burns. Lisa Milne sings them ravishingly. Musgrave has a gift to write music that evokes earlier styles without copying the technique. She writes that Burns’s own melodies are embedded in the music, and one feels the source but also the hand of the composer, a creative interpreter of the original.
Two’s Company (2005) is a double concerto for the unlikely duo of oboe and percussion. Musgrave writes about a number of theatrical elements that involve placement and movement of the soloists, gestures that clarify the relationship of their characters, but which we as CD listeners can’t see. The music still has a satisfying flow and arc, and the percussion writing doesn’t take a kitchen-sink approach; such restraint is appreciated and makes the music that much more effective.
This is not groundbreaking music, but it’s still very much of our time. It’s humanist and poetic, and the product of a composer at the top of her game. The performances are excellent; these are live concert recordings, and you’ll have to deal with a little bit of audience noise, but it’s a distraction worth weathering to experience Musgrave’s art.
Robert Carl, Fanfare magazine, 1/25/2010