ECHOES OF OBLIVION with Robert McCarney

Selling like hot cakes ... maybe, hopefully

This week I start a new month and a new season in the privileged, indeed luxurious, position of being able to announce that the five discs I have chosen for today have all been released within the last ten days. Before anyone loses the run of themselves, I hasten to add the disclaimer that I by no means expect this situation to become the norm or even to be repeated before I die. I rather expect to see another forty-seven complete Mahler symphony cycles released or to be literally struck by lightning before lightning of this kind strikes twice but while the sun shines I shall happily scythe away in the wildly overgrown fields of oblivion.


1: Ketil Hvoslef (born 1939):
Octopus Rex (2010)

This LAWO Classics CD is the eighth and what is projected to be the penultimate edition in one of the most interesting and welcome recording projects of the last decade. Ketil Hvoslef is very much his own man and his individuality is primarily what makes his music so attractive and stimulating. He has composed a lot but in all that I have heard he doesn't repeat himself and always keeps the listener second guessing. This CD also contains two of his excellent string quartets which I could have very easily chosen. If the piece that was finally selected hadn't been good enough to get past our insanely stringent quality control (which was not the case) it would have merited its place here purely on its title alone which is a perfect example of Hvoslef's very well developed sense of humour. If only the octopii ruled the world, but clearly they are far too smart to bother with anything beyond their ocean realm.

Ketil Hvoslef: Chamber Works No VIII. © 2023 LAWO Classics
Ketil Hvoslef: Chamber Works No VIII. © 2023 LAWO Classics


2: Ina Boyle (1889-1967):
String Quartet (1934)

This welcome CD from the enterprising Rubicon Classics label is being recommended here chiefly for what they claim (and I have no reason to doubt them) is the premiere commercial recording of Ina Boyle's one and only string quartet. This piece has been a very pleasant discovery for me and it is great to know that Fred May's excellent string quartet of 1936 is not the only worthwhile Irish chamber music piece of the period. It also gives hope that more discoveries of this kind are out there waiting to be made. Rubicon are also to be thanked for providing this recording with an appealing cover that I wouldn't be ashamed to buy, which sadly is not the case with many current classical releases.

Boyle - Piatti Quartet. © 2023 Rubicon Classics
Boyle - Piatti Quartet. © 2023 Rubicon Classics


3: Egon Wellesz (1885-1974):
Four Pieces, Opus 103 (1968)

It is barely credible that a composer of the stature of Egon Wellesz has so many of his major works currently absent from the record catalogues. Alongside all of his stage works we urgently need a complete recording of his cycle of nine string quartets that run like a spinal cord throughout his entire composing career from 1912 to 1966. I don't know if Toccata Classics have any plans to embark on such a project, but while we wait, this CD, which includes three premiere recordings, is very welcome indeed. It focuses on works from his late wonderfully spare style.

Egon Wellesz: Chamber Music. © 2023 Toccata Classics
Egon Wellesz: Chamber Music. © 2023 Toccata Classics


4: Amir Mahyar Tafreshipour (born 1974):
The Doll Behind The Curtain (2015)

My curiosity about this BIS Records CD was piqued by the fact that The Doll Behind The Curtain is an opera based on a story by Iranian writer Sadeq Hedayat, whose work impressed me a lot when I read it a long time ago and also by the fact that Amir Mahyar Tafreshipour is likewise Iranian. Here at Oblivion HQ any composer from a country that is not at the heart of the Western European classical music tradition is of immediate interest. Of course not being German or French or Italian or whatever is no guarantee that the music is any good, but I have been listening to this CD over the previous days and although I haven't yet read the English libretto, I have heard enough to want to include it in this week's selection.

Amir Mahyar Tafreshipour: The Doll Behind The Curtain - an opera in two acts. © 2023 BIS Records
Amir Mahyar Tafreshipour: The Doll Behind The Curtain - an opera in two acts.
© 2023 BIS Records


5: Elisabeth Lutyens (1906-83):
Echo Of The Wind, Opus 157 (1981)

What a debut! This week I finish with a new CD on the Delphian Records label dedicated to one of my favourite instruments that includes a choice selection of stellar composers and a track list much of which is new to me. If all that were not enough for this CD to deserve its place here, Rosalind Ventris just happens to be a brilliant violist who makes a most persuasive case for all this repertoire. Elisabeth Lutyens' late Echo Of The Wind is a glorious piece that howls and whispers in equal measure. I am pretty sure it is fiendishly difficult to pull off, but Ventris absolutely nails it.

Sola - Music for Viola by Women Composers. Rosalind Ventris. © 2023 Delphian Records Ltd
Sola - Music for Viola by Women Composers. Rosalind Ventris.
© 2023 Delphian Records Ltd

Ventris' very apposite comment in the booklet notes that 'this is wonderful music that just happens to be by women composers' has inspired me to want to finish today by giving my tuppenceworth on the recent increase in recordings dedicated solely to women composers. In principle I do not go along with the policy of choosing who to put (or not) on a programme based solely on their gender, for two simple reasons. Firstly, any music which is good enough can be programmed anywhere and alongside anything else and secondly, when it comes to considerations of musical quality or worth, the gender of the person who composed a particular piece of music, regarding strictly compostional matters, is utterly irrelevant.

I have read male critics talking about specifically feminine meters and modulations but I find this risible imbecility of the first division. Having said that, I fully understand that misogyny is the norm and as such we are not on a level ideal playing field, and I accept as valid and pertinent the recent trend in highlighting or focusing exclusively on the gender of composers when they happen to be women as a necessary evil as it were (because in a just world the gender of a composer would never matter) in a need to redress the balance in an obtusely sexist world whereby women composers, unless they wrote/write the kind of simple, throwaway music that a ludicrously sexist world presumed/presumes was the only kind of music that the combined heart, soul, spirit, intelligence, imagination, study, dedication, hard work and personal life experience of any woman could or (for the sake of decency) should compose, they were/are ignored, ridiculed or vilified.

While many of the current laudable and welcome efforts to fill in the blanks and tell the untold story are undoubtedly being done for noble reasons and by very genuine, dedicated and sincerely motivated people, I can't escape the suspicion that at least some of the current trend is purely motivated by mammon and a desire by the unscrupulous to jump on a very lucrative fashionably feminist bandwagon which is great for PR, supposed credibility and company accounts, and that many of the people involved in these murky endeavours continue to live their daily lives behaving and thinking as obtusely misogynistic as ever.

Yuja Wang - The American Project. © 2023 Deutsche Grammophon
Yuja Wang - The American Project. © 2023 Deutsche Grammophon

Although we are going in the right direction before we all pat ourselves on the back for being so much more politically correct, based on the points I have just made and while any record company, artist, critic or paying customer still thinks that using, for example, the image above (due for release next month) to sell a recording of classical music is perfectly fine; the fight against profound and all-pervading ingrained sexism sadly still has a very long way to run.

Copyright © 5 February 2023 Robert McCarney,
León, Spain



 << Home              Next article >>