At 90, Scottish-born, US-domiciled since 1972 Thea Musgrave is one of the UK’s most senior musicians, a composer whose intriguing and skilful body of work still seems criminally underrepresented in our concert halls. This Lyrita release will hopefully aid her cause, presenting three of her finest scores, each of which deserves more regular airings.
In Phoenix Rising, a tattoo of drums underpins music of tremendous energy, the percussion driving a series of colourful climaxes. In Musgrave’s battle of light against darkness, the timpani is the foe with the horn, at first off stage, portraying the mythical bird that will ultimately rise from the ashes. The four percussionists surround the performance space, a device not really effective here on disc. Lost too is the moment when the timpanist is required to stalk off in high dudgeon (!), but otherwise the orchestral separation of virtuosic brass fanfares, scurrying strings and plangent woodwind comes over splendidly, as does the dramatic battle between timpani and horn. Even more succulent is the harp and tuned percussion that form the wind under the phoenix’s wings. William Boughton and the BBC Orchestra of Wales give a convincing, committed performance of one of Musgrave’s most impressive scores.
Loch Ness, a 2012 BBC Proms commission, is if anything even finer. Like Wagner’s Ring, it emerges from out of a watery E Flat, the slippery solo tuba representing the eponymous monster as it glides in and out of the murky orchestral depths. The orchestration is brilliant throughout, a light-hearted piece to be sure but one with a great deal of musical substance that surely deserves a wider recognition.
Poets in Love from 2009 is a song-cycle for tenor, baritone and piano four-hands, setting 17 poems by authors ranging from Afanasy Fet to Robert Burns, and including such diverse voices as Shakespeare, Goethe, Rilke and Shelley. In Musgrave’s spiky, smartly-set conception, the higher voice represents the more idealistic, romantic lover with the lower voice commenting as a more cynical, older partner. Here, Nathan Vale is the slightly fluttery tenor with Simon Wallfisch rather more satisfying as the baritone.
It’s a rich, sometimes over-spiced confection that perhaps wanders a little too far and wide to feel properly unified. Nevertheless, Simon Callaghan and Hiroaki Takenouchi as the hard-working pianists provide sensitive contributions, which go a great way to holding it all together. A compilation well worth returning to.
Composer: Thea Musgrave
Composition: Phoenix Rising, Loch Ness, Poets In Love
Performer: BBC Orchestra of Wales, William Boughton
Catalogue Number: Lyrita SRCD372