★★ (out of five)
Late in the Second World War, a Scottish composer in London fell in love with a Czech journalist. Geraldine Mucha was a rising talent at the Royal Academy of Music. Jiri Mucha was the son of a world-renowned artist, the man who had remade the fin-de-siecle image of Sarah Bernhardt in a style as unmistakable and widely imitated as Gustav Klimt’s.
Newly married, the Muchas returned in autumn 1945 to Prague where, with Rafael Kubelik, they organised the first Prague Spring Festival. When the Communists seized power, Jiri was arrested as an enemy of the people and Geraldine’s music was banned. As matters eased, she became the custodian of her father-in-law’s estate and a figure of consequence in the art markets until her death, aged 95, in 2012.
As for her music, it is hardly known and the evidence on this recording is mixed. Two student suites on Shakespeare’s Tempest and Macbeth are reminiscent of the juvenile Benjamin Britten, touchingly naïve and excessively keen to make an impression. A 1961 piano concerto reveals a considerable lyrical gift, albeit one that belongs to a much earlier era. Dollops of Scottish folk song fall charmingly on the ear.
A set of John Webster Songs written in the 1970s for a visiting British singer, Jill Gomez, is a little more contemporary but the piece that commands my attention is a 1954 set of piano Variations on an Old Scottish Song, technically adroit and creatively ingenious without ever lapsing into musical tourism or homesickness. Geraldine Mucha was a real talent, possibly in the right place, certainly at the wrong time. Patricia Goodson is the eloquent soloist on this album; the Hradec Kralove orchestra adds many subtleties to the proceedings. Mucha’s music would go down really well at summer festivals.
Geraldine Mucha: Macbeth (ArcoDiva) is available at Amazon.ca.