Elizabeth Maconchy Orchestral Music
Release Date 2011
Catalogue No. LNT133
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
Odaline de la Martínez (conductor)
Clélia Iruzun (piano)
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Andrew Clements, THE GUARDIAN
Though it's her 13-string quartets that form the core of Elizabeth Maconchy's achievement, she composed a considerable amount of orchestral music too, most of which has been ignored since her death in 1994 at the age of 87. Odaline de la Martinez's very polished collection with the excellent BBC Scottish Symphony ranges right across Maconchy's composing career. There's the Concertino for Piano and Chamber Orchestra and the four-movement suite The Land, to represent its precocious beginnings – both were first performed in 1930, and composed while she was still studying at the Royal College of Music with Vaughan Williams, where she was trying to reconcile that English influence with modernism in general, and Hindemith in particular. From 1954 there's the weighty and ambitious Symphony for Double String Orchestra, with its wonderfully spacious and poised final passacaglia, and the much more astringent and pithy Music for Wind and Brass of 1966.
Andrew Achenbach, GRAMOPHONE
The 23-year-old Elizabeth Maconchy created quite a splash with The Land, her four-movement suite for large orchestra which enjoyed a high-profile world premiere at the Proms on August 30, 1930, under Sir Henry Wood. Inspired by Vita Sackville-West’s 1926 narrative poem of the same name, it’s a strikingly confident and powerful creation, full of distinctive invention, imaginatively scored and much admired by (among others) Vaughan Williams, Holst and Tovey. It’s followed by the playful, crisply neo-classical Concertino for piano and chamber orchestra from 1928 (first heard in Prague a mere five months before The Land, with the composer Ervin Schulhoff as soloist) and Music for Wind and Brass, a characteristically absorbing nine-minute essay written in 1966 for Morley College’s annual Whitsun Festival in Thaxted, Essex. Last, but definitely not least, comes the Symphony for double string orchestra, an excitingly taut, four-movement masterwork from 1952-53, where the idiom is astringent yet often piercingly lyrical too. Resourcefully laid out and fuelled by the most bracing counterpoint and seemingly boundless rhythmic zest, it culminates in a deeply expressive Passacaglia that will haunt you for days, I promise.
Odaline de la Martinez’s performances with the BBC Scottish SO have endearing spirit and no mean discipline to commend them; the London-based Brazilian pianist Clélia Iruzun is on notably deft form in the Concertino.
Graham Rickson, THE ARTS DESK
Elizabeth Maconchy (1907-1944) was a pupil of Vaughan Williams in the 1920s; and her composing career continued until the late 1980s. It’s a real surprise to discover how uncompromising and un-English the music on this disc sounds. This bracing, confrontational style does, however, co-exist with a certain dourness, and there are places when you wish that Maconchy’s music would loosen up and brighten up a little, the relentless gritty counterpoint a little like eating large bowls of dry muesli. Still, taken in smallish doses, there’s plenty to fascinate on this well-produced and annotated disc. Maconchy’s early four-movement suite, The Land, inspired by a Vita Sackville-West poem, starts brilliantly, unfolding bleakly with utter confidence. Maconchy’s palette is stark, utilitarian, with superb use made of brass and wind. You’d expect the two movements celebrating Spring and Summer to be lighter, fluffier affairs but they’re both edgy and full of foreboding.
The Concertino for Piano and Chamber Orchestra, composed in 1928 is easier to assimilate; faster moving and more cleanly orchestrated. Brazilian pianist Clélia Iruzun is a confident soloist.
Maconchy’s Symphony for Double String Orchestra is tougher and more imposing. The antiphonal effects are well managed in this performance, and the slow fade in the final movement closes proceedings with understated eloquence. Only the monochrome Music for Woodwind and Brass oppresses rather than impresses. The ever-enterprising Odaline de la Martinez conducts, and she's a brilliant advocate for a genuine, underrated talent.