Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

Margaret SUTHERLAND (1897-1984)
Piano music
Two Chorale Preludes (1935)
Six Profiles (1945-46)
Voices I and II (1968)
Valse Descant (publ 1968)
Suites 1 and 2 (publ 1937)
Miniature Sonata (1939)
Sonatina (1956)
Extension (1967)
Chiaroscuro I and II (1968)

David Lockett (piano)
rec May/August 1996
ABC CLASSICS 441 934-2 [67.04]


With a name like Sutherland it is no surprise to hear that this composer's family were immigrants into Australia from Scotland in 1864. They settled in Melbourne. She studied with Fritz Hart (another sleeping giant awaiting large-scale exhumation of his works) and during the early 1920s with Arnold Bax.

The present recital falls into two - possibly three - categories. The first group comprises pieces from the period 1935 to 1940. The Two Chorales step placidly along in the dignified Bachian mood of the Finzi Grand Fantasia and Eclogue. They are touched also with the contented mood of Moeran's The White Mountain and some of the antique neo-classicism of Moeran's Serenade, Rubbra's Farnaby Improvisations and Warlock's Capriol. This music is surely inspired by Harriet Cohen's Bach pieces written by Bax and RVW. The First and Second Suites are similarly reflective - and serene with twists here and there of Fauré and of Herbert Howells' stolid grandeur. The Miniature Suite is oddly Beethovenian.

The second main grouping is from the wild and woolly 1960s. Voices I and II are macabre - like a vaguely dissonant extension of the language used by Ravel in Skarbo. This music would find happy companions in a piano recital alongside works by Ronald Stevenson, Olivier Messiaen and even Lord Berners. I can imagine that this music would be a delight in the hands of Joanna Macgregor not to suggest that David Lockett (also the excellent note writer) who is always attentive and sensitive - is out of sorts with this music - quite the opposite. The Valse Descant shades outwards like a shadow of Ravel's La Valse drifted into atonal outlands. Extension reminisces around the self-reflective Bachian tread of the 1930s but fantasises dissonantly from a departure point close to Bax's piano piece Winter Waters. Chiaroscuro I and II are darker still and in the case of II unsatisfactorily peters out into nothingness.

The Six Profiles clearly have their origins in the Bachian purity of the 1930s crossed with a stolid cakewalk and a macabre flavour of Prokofiev from Visions Fugitives. This is sly, charming, sinister music suggesting some knowledge of Berners' piano style. Ten years on the language is in transition still and the Sonatina (her longest piano work) recalls Shostakovich in at least one of the movements.

A rather serious recital from a composer who wrote music of character and whose consistency is traceable throughout all these works.

Rob Barnett


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