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Maconchy: The Sofa, The Departure / Dominic Wheeler

Release Date: 02/24/2009 
Label:  Chandos   Catalog #: 10508   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Dame Elizabeth Maconchy
Performer:  George Von BodenPatricia OrrAlinka KozariSarah Tynan,   ... 
Conductor:  Dominic Wheeler
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Independent Opera Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 10 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

MACONCHY The Sofa. The Departure 1 Dominic Wheeler, cond; Nicholas Sharratt ( Prince Dominic ); Sarah Tynan ( Monique ); Josephine Thorpe ( Dominic’s Grandmother ); Alinka Kozári ( Lucille ); Anna Leese ( Laura ); Patricia Orr ( Yolande Read more class="ARIAL12">); Patrick Ashcroft ( Suitor ); George von Boden ( Edward ); Louise Poole ( Julia ); 1 Håkan Vramsmo ( Mark ); 1 Sadler’s Wells Independent Op O CHANDOS 10508 (70:01)

Dame Elizabeth Maconchy (1907–1994) seems remarkably under-represented on disc, with perhaps the honorable exception of Regis’s three-disc set of her complete string quartets (9301). She studied with Charles Wood and Ralph Vaughan Williams at the RCM (Ursula Vaughan Williams is the librettist of The Sofa ). Later, she went to what is now known as the Czech Republic, where she met Josef Suk and heard the premiere of her own Piano Concertino. Her U.K. Proms debut came soon thereafter.

In 1956–57, Maconchy wrote The Sofa , first performed in December 1959 at Sadler’s Wells. It forms one of a trilogy of one-acters (the present disc includes two of them; the other is The Three Strangers ). The story is not original, but derives from the work of the satirist Crébillon fil (1707–1777). It’s set in 19th-century France at a ball hosted by the hedonist Dominic (although the Sadler’s Wells production from which this recording derives relocated it into the late 20th-century). The sofa of the title is where Dominic, hidden from the other guests, is attempting to seduce Monique. They are interrupted by the figure of the Grandmother, who not only funds Dominic’s lifestyle but also has magical powers that she promptly uses to turn him into a sofa. Only when a couple fornicates on him will he be released and return to his original form. The Suitor of the cast attempts to have his way with Lucille. All looks to be going well, but the Suitor unexpectedly brandishes an engagement ring and the expected climax is off. Ironically, Dominic is returned to human form by the coupling of Monique and her old flame, Edward.

The writing is deft and expert, full of beautiful touches. The playful opening not only sets the opera’s tone but also introduces us to Maconchy’s light touch. Nicholas Sharratt as Dominic gets into the spirit of things but is perhaps a little weak-voiced, especially in comparison with the excellent Sarah Tynan (Monique). Tynan’s voice is agile and a sheer delight. Maconchy’s portrayal of the arrival of the Grandmother is one of mock seriousness, somewhat in the nature of pantomime, perhaps. Josephine Thorpe, who plays the Grandmother, is too fresh-voiced to be anyone’s grandmother, alas. It must have been hard not to giggle at the solemnly intoned line, “You shall become a sofa.” Prince Dominic can still sing, even after his transformation (“I ache in every spring”). It would have been good to have a more virile-sounding Suitor than Patrick Ashcroft. Maconchy’s use of inferred dance is infinitely subtle and nostalgia-tinged. The comedy works well, even shorn of visuals.

In high contrast is The Departure . The libretto is by Anne Ridler (1912–2001), who was later to pen the librettos for The Jesse Tree (1970) and The Ring of the Golden River (1975). First performed in 1962, The Departure was an instant success. It is more introspective than The Sofa , and more tender. As far as the story itself goes, Maconchy asks a very pertinent question. Anyone who has studied bereavement counseling will be familiar with the concept of the bereaved frequently experiencing “visitations” by the one who has passed over. In counseling, these are seen as part of a process of searching. Maconchy and Ridler seem to be questioning this, suggesting that the encounters may be real (something mediums and sensitives have no problems accepting). We see Julia at her dressing table at the beginning of Maconchy’s opera, and we hear funeral music in the distance. She has been watching a funeral, and it is only when her husband Mark returns to the house and cannot see her that she realizes it was her own funeral that she saw. When she sees his eyes, he remembers the fatal car crash. Even though Mark cannot see her, he feels her presence, and Maconchy writes a love duet for the pair before Julia has to leave for the next stage of her journey.

Louise Poole is absolutely magnificent as Julia, who is alone on stage for long periods, supported only by the occasional participation of a chorus. Håkan Vramsmo is in superb, blanched voice as Mark (according to his biography, he has sung the role of Tarquinius, a role I hope he will commit to disc one day. At the moment this Maconchy disc seems to be the sole item in his discography). His entreaties to Julia to wait, to remember their special times (he mentions a summer ball and Maconchy gives a hint of the sense of nostalgia she so easily called upon in The Sofa ), and the heart-rending farewell are all wonderfully sung. Poole and Vramsmo make an ideal vocal pairing, with Poole’s final realization of the true situation portraying a moment of sad psychological urgency. Maconchy’s use of an offstage chorus is masterly.

Dominic Wheeler conducts with the utmost sensitivity. The recording is simply exemplary, as is Chandos’s presentation. Urgently recommended—this is Want List material, without a shadow of a doubt.

FANFARE: Colin Clarke Read less

Works on This Recording

The Sofa by Dame Elizabeth Maconchy
Performer:  George Von Boden (Baritone), Patricia Orr (Mezzo Soprano), Alinka Kozari (Soprano),
Sarah Tynan (Soprano), Nicholas Sharratt (Tenor), Josephine Thorpe (Mezzo Soprano),
Anna Leese (Soprano), Patrick Ashcroft (Tenor)
Conductor:  Dominic Wheeler
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Independent Opera Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1956-1957; England 
The Departure by Dame Elizabeth Maconchy
Performer:  Louise Poole (Mezzo Soprano), Hakan Vramsmo (Baritone)
Conductor:  Dominic Wheeler
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Independent Opera Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1960-1961 rev 1977; England 

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