…The orchestral music bristles with incident and its soloistic building blocks individually recall Stravinsky. Overall though the delicate, yet steely pointillistic effect is dissonant but fascinating. In the case of the Concerto for Orchestra the effect is like wandering through a surreal forest where the traveller is slapped, scratched and bombarded with a wealth of ideas and impressions. Some of these details are brazen but many are more subtle; everything seems superbly weighted and calculated. The clarinet plays a prominent role in this work which two years later was to be rewarded in the form of a Clarinet Concerto. In this work the instrumentalist moves from one part of the orchestra to another as the clarinet voice entwines and extricates itself from other groupings. The virtuosic clarinet line which delights in display and plangently touching reflection moves amongst an often busily varied orchestral skein in which light and air allows individual voices to emerge, shine and interact with the ever mobile clarinet. Two years after the Clarinet Concerto came the Horn Concerto – another typically poetic instrument – and two years after that came the Viola Concerto written for her husband Peter Mark. The Horn Concerto is of a piece stylistically speaking with the Clarinet Concerto – another fundamentally lyrical singing instrument on a pilgrimage amid dissonance. Musgrave is no stranger to tumultuous activity as we hear in the vituperative tempest of sound at 13:52 but this contrasts pleasingly with the gentle Bergian strings at 14:58. Once again the composer’s sense of the continuity of sound with movement is reflected at one point in the directions that the orchestral horns move to different positions on the stage. Indeed if the management can run to three additional horns she asks that they play from the upper balcony. Naturally these aural-visual pieces of theatre tend to be lost to the listener to a sound-only CD – one of these days a DVD perhaps – I hope so.
The other works are for piano. First the composer plays her own Monologue originally written for Margaret Kitchin in 1960. It’s a short dodecaphonic piece – declamatory and with for me a certain bardic pride. The eight Excursions were written to be played by pupil and teacher at one piano. These are tonal, delightful (try the Pesante), full of vivid Arnoldian character although they have some of the pepper of Goossens too. And if they drift into Arthur Benjamin from time to time where’s the harm.
It should also be noted that the soloists in the two concertos are the artists for whom the works were written and who premiered them.
The disc is completed by what amounts to major encyclopedic entry for Musgrave by Calum Macdonald; the perfect companion to this listening experience.
Not typical fare for Lyrita but beguilingly done with fervent authority and great sensitivity.
Rob Barnett, www.musicweb.uk.net, 8/1/2007
Three resounding cheers for the appearance on CD at last of the three Thea Musgrave concertos. In these single-movement works of the 1960s and early ‘70s, the Scottish-born composer made effective use both of her flexible mixture of rhythmic and free-time music and of her distinctive vein of instrumental drama: in the Concerto for Orchestra with the principal clarinettist standing up to lead a revolt against the conductor’s beat ; in the Clarinet Concerto with the soloist moving round the platform to link up with different orchestral sections; in the Horn Concerto with the soloist echoed by his colleagues al around the orchestra and beyond. And these are no gimmicks, but integral to the impact of some of the most convincing and thrilling orchestral pieces that have been written anywhere in the last few decades.
The early 1970s performances have all the excitement of the new. Alexander Gibson and the Scottish National Orchestra deliver the Concerto for Orchestra with great panache; Musgrave herself takes over to support the poetic and authoritative Barry Tuckwell in the Horn Concerto. In the Clarinet Concerto, Gervase de Peyer and Norman Del Mar set some daringly fast tempos for the brilliant London Symphony Orchestra…. The recordings are vivid and well remastered, and the notes helpful. As a double bonus, there’s the composer playing the lucid piano Monologue, and, with Malcolm Williamson, the entertaining teaching duets Excursions. But the prime attraction ia undoubtedly those three terrific concertos.
PERFORMANCE: 5 STARS
SOUND: 4 STARS
Anthony Burton, BBC Music Magazine, 9/1/2007
One of the most positive developments in the Lyrita catalogue has been the reissue, for the first time on CD, of long-unavailable recordings sponsored by the British Council or regional arts councils. The concertos of Thea Musgrave are a case in point: few of her contemporaries brought the dramatic and abstract into so potent an alignment; the extremes of motion in the Concerto for Orchestra (1967) have not lost their capacity to thrill. The Scottish National Orchestra responds ably to Alexander Gibson, as it does to Musgrave herself in the Horn Concerto (1971), its elaborate play on tuning and spatial conceits effortlessly dispatched by dedicatee Barry Tuckwell. More earnest but no less vital, the Clarinet Concerto (1967) – a ‘voyage around the orchestra’ like no other – was written for Gervase de Peyer, whose artistry is complemented by that of the London Symphony Orchestra and Norman Del Mar. Musgrave evinces no mean pianistic credentials in her early Monologue (1960) and partners Malcolm Williamson in Excursions (1965), teaching-pieces too diverting to seem merely didactic. With detailed notes from Calum MacDonald, this is a collection that well deserves a long lease of life in its new incarnation.
Richard Whitehouse, International Record Review, 10/1/2007