grew up on a farm on the North Island of New Zealand. In the
late 1930s and early 1940s he studied at the Royal College
of Music in London, where he was taught by Vaughan Williams.
There may be a detectable debt to RVW in these orchestral
works but the influence of Sibelius is much more pervasive.
The disc opens with Aotearoa which translates as Land
of the long white cloud and perhaps could have been called
New Zealandia. My intention is not to disparage the
composer but merely to suggest that, in this work in particular,
and to some extent in every work on the disc save the last,
listeners could be forgiven for thinking they had stumbled
across some previously unknown Sibelius. In one place, starting
just under two minutes into Forest, Lilburn actually
seems to quote the slow movement of the Finnish master’s Fifth
Symphony in the bass although Robert Hoskins suggests in the
booklet that this was merely “tracking”. Forest was,
in any case, the earliest of the works recorded here. The
Drysdale Overture of the following year and then Aotearoa
show considerable advances in originality and in handling
of the orchestra. The programme of the overture relates to
the remote location in which Lilburn spent his formative years
and the music captures a faraway spirit. In between these
two works comes A Birthday Offering – a substantial
present for the orchestra playing on this disc when it celebrated
its tenth birthday. The opening material draws from Copland
but its treatment is highly original. At the end Lilburn alludes
to Happy Birthday in quite a clever way and then ends
the work without ceremony. A Song of the Islands is
undoubtedly the masterpiece here – an atmospheric and deeply
felt tone-poem inspired by art from the South Island. The
Festival Overture is worth an airing and the concluding
Processional Fanfare is well-crafted but, unsurprisingly,
does not reach great heights of inspiration.
is an excellent programme which those who enjoyed the previous
Lilburn release from Naxos of the three symphonies (see
will surely want to explore. They are unlikely to be disappointed
with the music and nor should anyone who likes their Sibelius.
The playing of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra is committed
and refined, and James Judd does an excellent job of ensuring
structural cohesion in the larger works. Fine recorded sound
and good notes complete a highly desirable issue.
perspective from Rob Barnett:
For some reason
I cannot fully fathom I mentally bracket the New Zealander
Douglas Lilburn with the American Randall Thompson. Both wrote
three symphonies and with the exception of Lilburn’s Third
all are of an open-air tonal character alive with melody and
rhythmic fibre. In fact the Second Symphonies of both composers
represent their finest orchestral work. It's a pity that while
Leonard Bernstein did record Randall Thompson 2 he never discovered
Lilburn 2 despite its undeniable attractions.
You can get some
but not all of the present pieces by buying various Kiwi-Pacific
and Continuum CDs at full price; they are reviewed on this
site. However there is no need for that as these are good
versions and well recorded. Drysdale excitingly celebrates
the composer's childhood on a remote sheep station. It buzzes
with echoes of Sibelius’s Sixth and Third Symphonies as well
as pastoral Copland - Outdoor Overture, The Tender
Land and Appalachian Spring. The writing is lithe,
cool and lean exactly as it is with the Aotearoa Overture
- his most famous piece alongside the Second Symphony.
The title means Land of the Long White Cloud - the
Maori name for New Zealand. A Birthday Offering is
a later piece and is less accessible though there’s not much
in it. It develops into something of a rowdy New Zealand hoe-down.
Forest is a work of the composer's apprentice
years and here receives its recording premiere. We already
knew that Lilburn was much influenced by Sibelius in the 1930s.
This is further evidence. It even begins with a rolling Tapiola-like
'explosion'. This is highly attractive writing but even the
ostinato is pure Sibelius. It was written as an entry
in a competition organised by Percy Grainger for music to
express the essence of New Zealand. Horn-calls echo out above
a bristling Tapiola-like gale. This relents at 11.06
sounding for a moment closer to one of Stokowski's Bach transcriptions.
This is soon shaken off and we return to music that recalls
the early tone poems of Howard Hanson - another Sibelius captive.
A Song of Islands is the longest piece here. This is
a confident work with a serene and firmly-rooted melody that
positively gleams with confidence (4:21). It too bristles
with Aotearoa-like figures and quick explosive climaxes
come and go like summer storms. Inspiration becomes thin
towards the end but overall this is an engaging dewy-eyed
work to add to the stock of Copland, Moeran, Butterworth and
Thompson. The Festival Overture at first owes not a
little to the Walton Symphony No. 1 - another work notably
influenced by Sibelius. However this is an ebullient little
number with plenty of vitality and freshness. Towards its
close we get an almost-quote from the Tallis Fantasia by
Lilburn's teacher Vaughan Williams. It was premiered in London
under the baton of Sir George Dyson. The Processional Fanfare
has all the expected pomp and occasion yet its fanfares
are typically Lilburn contoured with that defiance and energy
we know from Aotearoa here melded with a Purcellian
There are good
strong liner notes by Robert Hoskins.
A sound and
well thought-through collection of Lilburn's attractive music.
Not to be missed if you have already encountered the symphonies
or you warm to the other composers I have mentioned.