Musgrave: The Seasons; Helios; Night Music

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LABELS: Collins
WORKS: The Seasons; Helios; Night Music
PERFORMER: Nicholas Daniel (oboe)Scottish CO/Nicholas Kraemer
Although Thea Musgrave has lived in America since the early Seventies, her work has retained a strong British quality. ‘Autumn’ has the thrust of a symphonic first movement by, as it might be, a latter-day Walton, and is an exciting opening to The Seasons. ‘Winter’ is all frozen activity in the higher registers; ‘Spring’ gradually increases in tempo, and introduces the sound of the cuckoo; and ‘Summer’ returns to the energy of the first movement. But it’s a pity that, apart from the hunt scene in ‘Autumn’, the booklet notes don’t give any information about the paintings which inspired Musgrave: the unexplained introduction of the Marseillaise and The Star-Spangled Banner towards the end is baffling and unsettling. In Helios, which depicts a day in the life of a sun god, the material is much more consistent, and Nicholas Daniel is particularly eloquent in the Brittenesque solo part. The storm in the strings is a bit tame though, and the spatial aspect of the piece, with a wedge of players surrounding the strings, doesn’t come across as clearly as it might. The same goes for the on- and off-stage horns in Night Music, a dreamscape with unpredictable shifts of mood like the shapes of sleep. But the performances throughout are committed, and do the composer proud in her 70th birthday year. Martin Cotton