Friday, 6 March 2015

Doreen Carwithen: A Discography

It is ironic there are some 122 CDs of Sir Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations- just one work- but there are only three CDs dedicated to the entire musical achievement of Doreen Carwithen (Mary Alwyn).  Even her late husband, William, has nearly 70 discs featuring his music.  It has little to do with the quality of the music: more concerned with the fact that historical prejudice has kept the achievement of many composers (often women) in the dark.  I present here details of Carwithen’s recorded works and a few headlines from contemporary reviews.

Doreen Carwithen: Orchestral Works
Overture ODTAA (One Damn Thing After Another) (1945)
Concerto for piano and strings (1948)
Overture: Bishops’ Rock (1952)
Suffolk Suite:  Prelude, Orford Ness, Suffolk Morris, Framlingham Castle (1964)
Howard Shelley (piano) London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Richard Hickox
Chandos 9524 (1997)

Doreen Carwithen: Chamber Music
String Quartet No.1 (1945)
String Quartet No.2 (?)
Sonata for violin and piano (?)
Lydia Mordkovitch (violin) Julian Milford (piano) Sorrel Quartet: Gina McCormack (violin), Catherine Yates (violin) Vicci Wardman (viola) Helen Thatcher (cello)
Chandos 9596 (1998)

The Film Music of Doreen Carwithen
Overture: Men of Sherwood Forest (1954)
Boys in Brown: Suite (1949)
To the Public Danger (Prelude and Apotheosis) (1948)
East Anglian Holiday (1954)
Mantrap: Suite (1953)
Three Cases of Murder: Suite (1953)
Travel Royal: Suite (1952)
BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Gavin Sutherland
Dutton Epoch CDLX 7266 (2011)

William Alwyn: Piano Music
Doreen Carwithen: Sonatina (1946) included on album of William Alwyn’s piano works.
Mark Bebbington (piano)

In the October 1996 release of The Gramophone magazine there was a brief comment in the ‘In the Studios’ section: ‘Due for release in the following month is a disc of orchestral music by Doreen Carwithen. ‘Who?’ came the understandable chorus.’ The writer suggest that this ‘clearly neglected figure (who has written over 30 film scores) has had ‘matters put to rights’ with Richard Hickox’s new recording on Chandos.  It was duly released in the same month as Roberto Gerhard’s great opera La Duenna on the same label.
The Gramophone review of the orchestral works is wholly positive. ‘EG’ states that Carwithen’s music is  ‘vigorous’ and ‘warmly lyrical’ and relates to that of William Walton rather than her late husband.  These are, nevertheless ‘individual’ works, it is ‘just that from time to time one detects Waltonian fingerprints in the jazzy syncopations, brassy fanfares and stirring melodies.’  The Concerto for piano and strings, which is the longest work on the CD is not a ‘limited work’ and ‘strong, virtuoso piano writing set against richly textured strings.’ The slow movement has ‘deeply melancholy’ and the finale is like John Ireland’s – [contrasting] ‘chattering, sharply rhythmic passages with warmly lyrical sections.’
Andrew Achenbach (The Gramophone, May 1997) declared that the piano concerto is an ‘amazing piece.’
Guy Rickards has given a comprehensive review of the two Chandos CDs in Tempo, October 1999.  He considers that the Piano Concerto ‘is the real gem of the first Chandos disc, a buoyant, lively work, the solo part adroitly laid out for the keyboard. The style, like that of its companion pieces, is solidly British mid-century, with elements resonant of Alwyn (unsurprisingly), Bax (without the Celticisms) and Walton.’  He believes that the two overtures are ‘more workaday, but still exhibit the same high degree of craftsmanship.’ He thinks that the influence of Bax and Walton ‘come nearer the surface here, particularly in the more rhetorical moments, but neither piece ever descends into mere imitation’. He is impressed with the ‘light music’ Suffolk Suite which ‘was written to order for a school orchestra, full of good tunes and sounding grateful to play…’
Rickards considers that the First String Quartet provides ‘a varied but enchanting mix of beauty and breeziness and that the second example as being less spontaneous in invention’ however ‘it is even more assured in its handling of the instruments and altogether darker and deeper.’

Jonathan Woolf (MusicWeb International) has reviewed Mark Bebbington’s recording of Carwithen’s Sonatina (1946) which he considers is ‘is rather Francophile with a well-upholstered and confident neo-classicism in the air’. He believes that it is ‘all very exciting and would make an excellent impression in recital’. 

Finally, the CD of film music has not received any attention on either MusicWeb International or The Gramophone, however Paul Snook in the January 2012 edition of Fanfare has given considerable thought to this music. He begins by noting Philip Lane’s work in realising much of this music – ‘working probably with disordered sketches, cue sheets, and disconnected fragments and preserving this otherwise irretrievable material by transforming it into performable and listenable concert form.’ Snook has reservations about the 1948 film Boys in Brown and To the Public Danger from the following year. He deems that Carwithen was at this time ‘getting her feet wet.’ He considers that they are ‘short on interesting ideas or developmental treatments’. However he is impressed with subsequent suites – that from the Mantrap having ‘compelling passages’ and ‘Three Cases of Murder’ Suite which he suggests ‘contains some of the most immediately appealing music here, including a waltz and gavotte that qualify as first-rate light music.’


Buster said...

There was an LP half-devoted to her score for the film On the Twelfth Day, issued in the 1950s. More information and a transfer here:

Mathias Richter said...

John, the Piano Concerto has been recorded a second time: