Photo: Christian Steiner

  __________________________

 Thea Musgrave
  composer
  __________________________

 

Discography

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge
Thea Musgrave, conductor, London Sinfonietta
Jake Gardner, baritone; Gayle Hunnicutt, actor
NMC D 167 - See CD Review

Autumn Sonata - Concerto for Bass Clarinet and Orchestra
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
Thea Musgrave, conductor
Victoria Soames Samek, clarinet
Cala CACD 1023

Black Tambourine
New York Virtuoso Singers, Harold Rosenbaum, conductor
Walter Hilse, Piano: Richard Fitz & Rex Benincasa, percussion
BRIDGE RECORDS: Bridge 9161 - See CD Review

Canta Canta
Mark Troop, piano
Victoria Soames Samek, clarinet
Matthew Sharp, Cello
Clarinet Classics CC0038

Cantilena for oboe, violin, viola and cello
Nicholas Daniel, and members of the Chilingarian Quartet
"Chamber Works for Oboe"
Harmonia Mundi 907568
- See CD Review

Chamber Concerto No. 2
Mark Troop, piano
Victoria Soames Samek, clarinet
David le Page, violin
Garbirl Byam-Grounds, flute
Matthew Sharp, cello
Clarinet Classics CC0038

A Christmas Carol
Virginia Opera
Peter Mark, conductor
LP MMG 302

Colloquy for violin and piano
Manoug Parikian and Lamar Crowson
LP Argo ZRG 5328

Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
Thea Musgrave, conductor
Victoria Soames Samek, clarinet
Cala CACD 1023
——— also ———
London Symphony Orchestra
Norman del Mar, conductor
Gervase de Peyer, clarinet
Lyrita SRCD 253
- See CD Review

Concerto for Horn and Orchestra
National Youth Orchestra of Scotland
Bramwell Tovey, conductor
Michael Thompson, horn
NYOS 004

——— also ———
Scottish National Orchestra
Thea Musgrave, conductor
Barry Tuckwell, horn
Lyrita SRCD 253 - See CD Review

Concerto for orchestra
Scottish National Orchestra
Alexander Gibson, conductor
Lyrita SRCD 253 - See CD Review

Excursions for piano duet
Malcolm Williamson and Thea Musgrave
Lyrita SRCD 253 - See CD Review

For the Time Being: Advent
New York Virtuoso Singers, Harold Rosenbaum, conductor
Michael York, Narrator
BRIDGE RECORDS: Bridge 9161 - See CD Review

Four Madrigals
Florilegium Chior
JoAnn Rice, conductor
Leonarda LE328

Four Portraits
Stephen Varcoe, baritone
English Serenata
Clarinet Classics CC0039

Green
Scottish Ensemble
NMC D 167 - See CD Review

Helios - Concerto for Oboe and Orchestra
Scottish Chamber Orchestra
Nicholas Kraemer, conductor
Nicholas Daniel, oboe
Collins Classics 1529-2
NMC Ancora series NMC DO74

Impromptu for flute and oboe
Douglas Whittaker/Janet Craxton
BBC Radio Classics CD635
——— also ———
Diane Gold/Rheta Smith
LP Leonarda LE 325
——— also ———
English Serenata
Clarinet Classics CC0039
——— also ———
Emer McDonough and Nicholas Daniel
"Chamber Works for Oboe"
Harmonia Mundi 907568
- See CD Review

Impromptu No. 2 for flute, oboe and clarinet
English Serenata
Clarinet Classics CC0039
——— also ———
Emer McDonough, Nicholas Daniel and Joy Farrall
"Chamber Works for Oboe"
Harmonia Mundi 907568
- See CD Review

In the Still of the Night
Paul Silverthorne, viola
CD Black Box BBM1058

John Cook
New York Virtuoso Singers, Harold Rosenbaum, conductor
BRIDGE RECORDS: Bridge 9161 - See CD Review

Journey Through a Japanese Landscape - Concerto for Marimba and Wind Orchestra
Singapore Symphony Orchestra
Lan Shui, conductor
Evelyn Glennie, percussion
BIS CD1222

Lamenting with Ariadne
Viola & Chamber Orchestra
Daniel Panner, Solo Viola
Sequitur ensemble
Paul Hostetter, conductor
Albany Records Troy 607

Mary, Queen of Scots
Virginia Opera
Peter Mark, conductor
Novello Records NVLCD108
LP MMG 301

Memento Vitae
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Jac van Steen, conductor
NMC Ancora series NMC DO74

Monologue for piano
Thea Musgrave
Lyrita SRCD 253 - See CD Review

Music for Horn and Piano
Douglas Hill / Karen Zaczek
Crystal Records CD 670

Narcissus
Patricia Spencer, flute
Neuma 450-95
——— also ———
F. Gerald Errante, clarinet
Capstone CPS 8607
——— also ———
Victoria Soames Samek, clarinet
Clarinet Classics CC0039

Night Music
Scottish Chamber Orchestra
Nicholas Kraemer, conductor
Collins Classics 1529-2
MNC Ancora series 1529-2
——— also ———
London Sinfonietta
Frederick Prausnitz, conductor
Barry Tuckwell and Anthoyn Chidell, horns
LP Argo ZRG 702

Night Windows for oboe and piano
Nicholas Daniel and Huw Watkins
"Chamber Works for Oboe"
Harmonia Mundi 907568
- See CD Review

Niobe for oboe and prerecorded tape
Nicholas Daniel
"Chamber Works for Oboe"
Harmonia Mundi 907568
- See CD Review

On the Underground. Set #1: On Gratitude, Love and Madness
New York Virtuoso Singers, Harold Rosenbaum, conductor
BRIDGE RECORDS: Bridge 9161 - See CD Review

On the Underground. Set #2: The Strange and the Exotic
New York Virtuoso Singers, Harold Rosenbaum, conductor
BRIDGE RECORDS: Bridge 9161 - See CD Review

On the Underground. Set #3: A Medieval Summer
New York Virtuoso Singers, Harold Rosenbaum, conductor
BRIDGE RECORDS: Bridge 9161 - See CD Review

Orfeo I
Patricia Spencer, flute
James Galway, flute, pre-recorded tape
Neuma 450-95

Orfeo II: An Improvisation on a Theme
New Zealand Chamber Orchestra
Nicholas Brathwaite, conductor
Alexa Still, flute
Koch 37140-2
——— also ———
English Chamber Orchestra
Richard Bernas, conductor
William Bennett, flute
Abigail Youngt, violin obligato
BEEP BP-33

Orfeo III
Orchestra 2001
James Freeman, conductor
Pamela Guidetti, flute
Composers Recordings Inc CRI CD 723

Piccolo Play
Susan Glaser, piccolo
Robert Markham, piano
Koch 37396-2

Pierrot
Verdehr Trio
Chrystal Records CD 742
———
Mark Troop, piano
Victoria Soames Samek, clarinet
David le Page, violin
Clarinet Classics CC0038

Primavera for soprano and flute
Dorothy Dorow, Ulf Bergstrom
LP Caprice RIKS LP 59

Ring Out Wild Bells
Mark Troop, piano
Victoria Soames Samek, clarinet
David le Page, violin
Gabriel Byam-Grounds, flute
Matthew Sharp, cello
Clarinet Classics CC0038

Rorate Coeli
Ionian Singers
Timothy Salter, conductor
Usk Recordings USK 1216CD
——— also ———
BBC Northern Singers
Stephen Wilkinson, conductor
LP Libra LRS 150
——— also ———
Florilegium Chamber Choir
JoAnn Rice, conductor
LP Leonarda LE 328

The Seasons
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
Thea Musgrave, conductor
Cala CACD 1023
——— also ———
Scottish Chamber Orchestra
Nicholas Kraemer, conductor
Collins Classics 1529-2
NMC Ancora series NMC DO74

Serenade
English Serenata
Clarinet Classics CC0039

Snapshots
Oxana Shevshenko, piano
Delphian DCD 34061

Sonata for three
Kristen Arpen, flute
Kathleen Follette, violin
Janna MacAuslen, guitar
LP Musica Femina LILAC C-2

Song of the Enchanter
Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra
Sergiu Comissiona, conductor
Ondine ODE 767-2

Songs for a Winter’s Evening
Lisa Milne, Osmo Vanska and the
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
NMC D 153 - See CD Review

Take two oboes
Nicholas Daniel and James Turnbull
"Chamber Works for Oboe"
Harmonia Mundi 907568
- See CD Review

Threnody
Victoria Soames Samek, clarinet
Mark Troop, Piano
Clarinet Classics CC0038

Threnody for cor anglais and piano
Nicholas Daniel and Huw Watkins
"Chamber Works for Oboe"
Harmonia Mundi 907568
- See CD Review

Trio for flute, oboe and piano
Mabillon Trio
LP Delta SDEL 18005
——— also ———
EmerMcDonough, Nicholas Daniel and Huw Watkins
"Chamber Works for Oboe"
Harmonia Mundi 907568
- See CD Review

Triptych for tenor and orchestra
Scottish National Orchestra
Alexander Gibson, conductor
Duncan Robertson, tenor
LP HMV ASD 2279

Turbulent Landscapes for orchestra
Vanska (conductor), BBC Symphony Orchestra
NMC D 153 - See CD Review

Two’s Company
Dame Evelyn Glennie, Nicholas Daniel, Jiri Belohlavek (conductor)
and the BBC Symphony Orchestra
NMC D 153 - See CD Review

Voices from the Ancient World
Scottish Flute Trio
Tim Williams, purcussion
Metier MSVCD92041

Wild Winter I
Red Byrd, Fretwork
NMC D 167 - See CD Review

Wind Quintet
The Mühlfeld Ensemble
English Serenata
Clarinet Classics CC0039

Discography Reviews

LYRITA SRCD 253

Three resounding cheers for the appearance on CD at last of the three Thea Musgrave concertos. In these single-movement works of the late 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 clarinetist 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 all 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, bringing out the work’s contrasts of mood…. The recordings are vivid and well remastered, and the notes helpful. As a double bonus, there’s the composer playing the lucid Monologue and with Malcolm Williamson the entertaining teaching duets Excursions. But the prime attraction is undoubtedly those three terrific concertos.
Anthony Burton. BBC Music Magazine

* * * * *

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, October 2007

* * * * *

Musgrave has, since the early 1970s, lived in the USA where she has held several illustrious academic posts. Among her awards are a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Koussevitsky Award. A Scot, she was born in Midlothian and studied in Edinburgh with Hans Gál and in Paris with Boulanger. She struck up a close friendship with William Glock as her music moved towards serialism.

Her musical preoccupations include opera ….. the latest being Simón Bolivar (1989-1992). There are other common threads including a concern with space, drama, movement and theatre. This is clear from the perambulations of the soloist notated in the score of the Clarinet Concerto. In addition there are spatial and motional directions in Chamber Concerto no.2 (1966), Concerto for Orchestra (1967), the Horn Concerto (1971) and as late as 1997 her orchestral work Phoenix Rising (1997) incorporates a floor plan and stage directions. She has written for Nicolas Daniel, Gervase de Peyer, Barry Tuckwell, Evelyn Glennie, Peter Pears and Julian Bream.

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. MusicWeb

* * * * *

BRIDGE RECORDS: Bridge 9161 (The New York Virtuoso Singers - Harold Rosenbaum, conductor)

Although born in Scotland, composer Thea Musgrave (b. 1928) is a longtime US resident; she recently retired after a distinguished tenure as Professor of Composition at the City University of New York. Throughout her career, she has excelled at writing for voices, composing songs, operas and choral music. The works collected on this disc show the wide range of experiment and expressivity abundant in her writing for voices. The Black Tambourine is a vivid setting of poems by Hart Crane. The voices are accompanied by percussion, which supplies a dance-like propulsion to several of its movements. For the Time Being: Advent, a nearly thirty minute setting of Auden, features spoken word narration by Michael York and an octet of soloists. Musgrave plays with space and density in this work, dispersing forces throughout the hall, employing attractive stacked harmonies, and juxtaposing solos, speech and lush choral passages. The overall effect is captivating. On the Underground Sets 1-3, groups of short settings of texts by various poets feature some dazzling writing as well. I'm particularly fond of Musgrave's setting of John Berry's "Benediction" and "Sometimes"; both are filled with sumptuous chords and interweaving contrapuntal lines. Musgrave's choral music is exciting fare, demonstrating a composer with absolute technical command and considerable sensitivity for text-setting.
Christian Carey, SPLENDID email magazine

* * * * *

NMC D 167

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 a thrilling rollercoaster of invention, brought to life in this live Proms performance by Vanska and the BBC SO….
Julian Haylock, Classic FM Magazine

Songs 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.
Christopher Dingle, BBC Music Magazine

…..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….
Kenneth Walton, The Scotsman

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge was a BBC commission, and this is the BBC recording of the first performance. The other two works were also recorded by the BBC, apparently at the premieres. The booklet contains an introductory essay on the three works by the composer herself, in English only, as well as all sung texts, with translation into English where appropriate. NMC and the BBC are to be congratulated and thanked for making this superb disc available.

Contemporary composers of opera are frequently criticised, often with some justification, for their apparent inability to spin out a memorable vocal line that both moves the action forward and evokes character, leaving the orchestra to do the work instead. In An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, Thea Musgrave is not totally immune from such criticism, yet there is no doubt that the sung passages of this remarkable work achieve real lyricism, expressiveness and a most moving intensity. The work was commissioned by the BBC as an opera for radio. Taking place during the American Civil War, it is the tragic story of Peyton Farquar, a planter from the South, who falls foul of the Yankee forces. Speech in contemporary opera might again lead us to suspect that the composer could not find the right music; here, of the four characters, all are speaking roles except that of Peyton, but it works. The two male roles are taken well enough, and the Narrator - who turns out to be very much more than that - is ideally played by Gayle Hunnicutt. Jake Gardner speaks a few lines too, but when he sings he is transformed, both by the music and by his own remarkable talent, into an eloquent, passionate man whose character we can believe in and whose story moves and inspires us. The recording betrays its radio origins. Stereo spread is very wide, with some of the voices coming from extreme right and left, and sound effects such as horses hooves and gun shots evoke radio plays of the period. The recording of the orchestra and singing voice is excellent. At a little over half an hour, this is a real opera, albeit an opera like no other. It is powerful and moving and I urge readers to make its acquaintance.

Wild Winter I is a very unusual work too. It was commissioned by the Lichfield Festival to commemorate the Siege of Lichfield of 1643, and the composer writes that one of the main difficulties she faced was finding a suitable text. In the end, she chose a selection of extracts in different languages from poetic works dealing with conflict and war. There is some Owen, some Lorca, some Petrarch amongst others. The work can only be partly appreciated without access to these texts, and I hope the first and subsequent audiences have been as well served as those who will buy this disc. The subtitle of the work is “Lamentations for voice and viols”; it is a powerful expression of conflict, suffering and lamentation. The setting of Petrarch, for example, is an uncanny twentieth-century equivalent of such “weeping” music as might be found in a Renaissance Italian madrigal. If the writing for viols, brilliantly played here by Fretwork, is not quite so integrated or strikingly original as in George Benjamin’s miraculous Upon Silence, it is nonetheless wholly successful and effective. The vocal writing is masterly, and the composer could surely not have wished for anything finer than the four voices of Red Byrd. Though many images in the words are harsh and cruel, and receive appropriate music, the work is frequently exquisitely beautiful.

Green, for string orchestra, fits into the overall programme because, like the other two works, it is concerned with conflict, though abstract musical conflict this time. An almost pastoral atmosphere is established at the outset, in music that reminded me of some pieces by Sally Beamish, but this is soon disturbed when the double bass introduces a foreign and disruptive note. The rest of the work is a restless exploration of these two conflicting elements. In the end it is the invader who prevails, which might be seen as representing the composer’s essentially pessimistic viewpoint, supported by a reference to her “concern and outrage with the happenings in the world today, where we are witnessing, once again, ‘man’s inhumanity to man’.” Compare this, though, with her choice of title, where the word “green” “represents either the freshness of youth, or the plant life in our world on which we all depend.” If this, the shortest and most recent work on the disc, makes a less immediate impact than the others, I think it is simply because there are no words or voices. Its richness is revealed each time one returns to it.
— William Hedley, MusicWeb-International

* * * * *

Harmonia Mundi: HMU907568 - Thea Musgrave: Chamber Works for Oboe

Thea Musgrave came to the attention of music lovers through a series of recordings (mostly on Arabesque in the U.S.) that appeared around the late 1970s and early ’80s, above all her opera Mary Queen of Scots. Since then her work has appeared on a variety of labels, often on collections devoted to women composers. A genuine talent, it’s good to see her getting a whole album to herself, even if chamber music featuring solo oboe is a somewhat esoteric corner of the repertoire.

Judging from the sound of these works, Musgrave must have been relieved when the serial movement collapsed, since her more recent pieces (Night Windows, for oboe and piano; Cantilena, for oboe and string trio; Take Two Oboes; and Threnody for English horn and piano) are notably more melodic and fluent than the earlier ones (the two Impromptus, for flute and oboe, and for flute, oboe, and clarinet respectively; and the Trio for flute, oboe, and piano). Not that these early pieces aren’t well-written—they are, but they also are less approachable than the later pieces. Somewhere in between comes Niobe, for oboe and tape, which is actually very moving and atmospheric, the taped sounds providing an imaginative and above all musical accompaniment to the oboe’s lament.

One thing is certain: the performances are magnificent. Nicholas Daniel is an amazing artist, with a sweet tone, even throughout its range, limitless breath control, and an amazing dynamic range. He can play at a genuine pianissimo, even at the very top of his register. There are some tricky unison passages in the second movement of Night Windows for oboe and piano that are stunningly well articulated. Musgrave couldn’t ask for a more passionate or expert advocate, and it’s easy to understand why these later works were written with Daniel in mind. His colleagues are equally adept, especially Joy Farrall on clarinet, and Huw Watkins, who provides’ sensitive piano accompaniments.

That said, I wouldn’t play all 72 minutes of this program at a sitting. For all of Daniel’s artistry, the timbre of the oboe is still fatiguing in large doses, and the engineering favors the instrument (with its attendant clicking valves). So take it in stages. Even with the understanding that this disc is likely to appeal to a limited audience, it’s good to see Musgrave, now in her mid 80s, still going strong.
— David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com

Chamber music for oboe in the modern camp is not precisely a commonplace, at least on disk, but Thea Musgrave's work in this realm is extensive and well worth hearing. Oboist Nicholas Daniel skillfully devotes himself to a full disk of it on the recent Chamber Works for Oboe (Harmonia Mundi 907568).

The music was written over a wide period of time, 1960-2009, but reflects a consistency of inspiration and craft on the composer's part. Her most recent works here were written specifically for Richard Daniel: "Cantilena," "Night Windows," "Take Two Oboes" and an arrangement of "Threnody" for cor anglais. Other winds, chamber ensemble, piano, and electronics combine with Nicholas's beautiful playing, with a sound ravishing, expressive and satisfyingly precise.

Perhaps this may not be a recital that would ordinarily be on your list of must haves--but it gives listeners a full, beautifully wrought program, a testament to the brilliance of Musgrave and Daniel. Recommended.
— Nicholas Daniel, Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review

I remember lying ill in bed as a teenager and being fascinated by a performance of Musgrave’s Night Music - once available on Collins Classics 15292 reissued on NMC Ancora. When I had an opportunity to sit behind her at the Guildhall School of Music in the 1970s and to see her direct a performance of her new Space-Play I was utterly captivated by the sounds. The spell was deepened when I went to a performance of her Horn Concerto with the orchestral horns scattered around the audience. This is a composer with the ability to project a real sense of drama. Her sound-world I really appreciate.

Even in the first work here, Night Windows for oboe and piano, there is a sense of theatrical eavesdropping. Only the other day I was in the same position as the artist Edward Hopper in 1928, walking up street at night in which people had not all drawn their curtains. The booklet cover features his Night Windows painting, with just a single female bending figure, which is a little less scandalous than the view I found myself confronted with! Anyway it set Musgrave off wondering about other people’s private thoughts in this five-movement suite. It has the headings Loneliness - the Hopper picture has that quality about it; Anger - a virtuoso Allegro; Nostalgia, Despair and Frenzy.

Nicholas Daniel is the captivating oboist. He has been a part of Thea Musgrave’s composing world for many years and it has been for him that most of these works were written.

The next two pieces are both called Impromptu and they were written three years apart. The first for flute and oboe originally included Janet Craxton who died far too young in 1981; she was Nicholas Daniel’s teacher. This is a scintillating little work. The Second Impromptu adds a clarinet and is double its length. Whilst in the first the composer admits to using aleatoric techniques - pitches are given but the rhythm is left up to the performers in certain sections. In No. 2 Musgrave in her succinct but useful notes comments that the rhythms “can be played with considerable freedom”. However you hear it, at the end all three come together in a believable unison after an often feverish journey.

The next work, Cantilena, lives up to its name, being deliberately lyrical, even romantic. Scored for string trio and oboe, Musgrave says of it that she wanted to write a work in which “an outsider (the oboe) joins the group(string trio) and adds to their dialogue. At first the newcomer is treated with a mixture of suspicion and agitation but eventually is made welcome”. Again there is a sense of the theatrical. It was written for an opening concert at the King’s Place, a hall that needed to welcome its new guests. The slow start rises into a faster climax point using the same material over again until falling back onto it opening sounds. It’s a memorable piece and well worth getting to know.

In Niobe, Musgrave pits the oboe against a pre-recorded tape mainly consisting of slowly-tolling bell sounds and later a gong. One is deliberately reminded of Hamlet’s statement about his mother “she comes, like Niobe, all tears”. The Greek Niobe laments her many sons and daughters and the oboe line represents a sort of keening, full of wailing and grief, very moving in its brevity. The balance between the oboe and the trio is not entirely pleasing however.

One should not be surprised that the last work on the disc, Threnody, is for cor anglais and piano as this instrument is often considered a somewhat mournful. Oddly enough the piece is a re-working of a 1997 piece written in memory of Roger Fallows. It works beautifully for cor anglais and falls into three connected sections. The Dies Irae plainchant is incorporated into a series of slow-moving chords. Musgrave’s language is very chromatic but it never loses sight of some kind of tonal centre; something evident in this work and in all of the pieces here. As a listener you are somehow never that far from home and the endings are always complete and satisfying.

Take two oboes is a witty little piece. Really it is a didactic exercise, a very good one, for well-known performer/teachers and their talented pupils. It’s one of a series apparently. Falling into four short movements- Pompous, Expressive, Serene and a 7/8 Frisky, it is a worthy addition to this very limited repertoire.

If one can detect changes at all in Musgrave’s basically consistent language over a sixty year composing career it is exemplified by putting the Threnody against the Trio for flute, oboe and piano, the earliest work on the disc, dating from 1960. The counterpoint is intense at times with the piano deliberately used to accompany and to carry the melody. The language is atonal but not serial and very typical of its time. Its three sections are restless and compared with the Threnody lack warmth but gain instead a youthful sense of exuberance.

Nicholas Daniel is in tremendous form and Huw Watkins is a sensitive and deeply committed accompanist. The other members of the team on this disc are also superb.
— Gary Higginson, MusicWeb-International

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