Friday, 15 February 2013

Frederic Curzon: In Malaga -Suite for Orchestra

In these cold, dark January days, the mind turns to warmer climes. I have always loved Malaga in the south of Spain, with its imposing Moorish castle (La Alcazaba), the splendid cathedral, the fine beaches and the delicious eating and drinking venues. And that says nothing about the excellent shops, Picasso’s birth-place and the newly redeveloped harbour area.  
Frederic Curzon (1899-1973) was fascinated by Spain –apart from this present piece he also wrote a Spanish Caprice: ‘Capricante’, a Serenade: ‘La Peineta’ and Bravada: A Paso Doble.  However, it is curious that he never actually visited the country.
The first movement of In Malaga is entitled ‘Spanish Ladies’. This music is quite definitely a tango. However the strong rhythms are offset by a slightly more relaxed feel that may suggest the ‘siesta’ rather than the time of day when ‘mad dogs and Englishmen’ venture out into the ‘mid-day sun.’ I was impressed by the light, subtle scoring of this music. Much use is made of pizzicato and delicate woodwind patterns. However, the movement ends with a bit of  bang.
The second movement of the suite is called ‘Serenade for Eulalie’. ‘Eulalie’ was a poem by Edgar Allan Poe which was first published in 1845 in the American Review: A Whig Journal and tells of a man who overcomes his grief by marrying the striking Eulalie. For enthusiasts of P.G. Wodehouse, the name ‘Eulalie’ will conjure images of Sir Roderick Spode’s one-time business venture as "founder and proprietor of the emporium in Bond Street known as “Eulalie Soeurs", a famed designer of ladies' lingerie. However, I do not think that Curzon had either of these two ‘exemplars’ in mind when he composed this Serenade.  The composer’s step-son has suggested that although the identity of this lady is a secret, he wonders if it was inspired by the ‘delightful personality of his [Fredercik’s] wife-to-be’.  This is a lovely elusive little tune. Opening with a gentle viola solo which then passes to the flute and clarinet for the first theme. The composer then introduces a romantic tune on strings which tends to dominate the proceedings.  The mood if this music is nocturnal, with nods to the Tango.
The final movement is a vigorous Cachucha. Many readers of this blog will know the near perfect example of this dance by Sir Arthur Sullivan in The Gondoliers. However, the original dance was from Andalusia in the south of Spain. It is usually in 3/4 or 3/8 time (Sullivan’s is in the latter) and was danced with castanet accompaniment. Conversely, there is some suggestion that the dance was originally from Cuba. Curzon’s take is impressive with a strong melodic drive, some syncopation and a lot of orchestral colour.
The Suite was dedicated to the former organist at the Shepherd’s Bush Pavilion, Quentin Maclean. As an aside, Maclean’s two Organ Concertos would seem to be worthy objects for investigation. In Malaga was published Hawkes and Son in 1935, although there appears to be no consensus as to when it was actually composed.  Two years later, a piano reduction was issued by the same publisher.
Finally the liner notes of the Marco Polo CD relates a good anecdote about Frederick Curzon and his Spanish Connection. “Donald Curzon recalls that his stepfather's skill at evoking the appropriate national atmosphere elicited a letter from Spain asking if the composer was of Spanish birth or had, at the very least, lived and worked in the country. The enquirer apparently was quite convinced that only a native Spaniard or someone with considerable direct experience of Spain could possibly write such 'authentic' sounding music!”
The entire In Malaga Suite can be heard on YouTube.

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