This album brings together some vary disparate works
from a wide variety of sources by Australian composers, the only common
denominator appearing to be that the pieces were all written in the
ten years between 1986 and 1995 by composers born before the end of
the Second World War.
The international reputation of Dulcie Holland
, the most senior of these figures, seems to rest almost entirely on her achievements as a pedagogue and the author of a series of textbooks on music for children. But her Cello Sonata
reveals a whole new side to her art. She studied under John Ireland among others, and his influence is clearly discernible alongside the flavours of Hindemith and Shostakovich that colour the music. This is hardly a work of outstanding originality, but it has plenty of life and is superbly played by the two musicians with a couple of tuning issues by Gary Williams barely noticeable. The recording is a bit airless, with not much resonance around the players and the piano sounding rather hard in consequence, but quite tolerable.
is the sound engineer responsible for quite a few of these recordings, and he is also the composer featured in the second work on this disc. His Lute Concerto
is not at all the neo-classical pastiche that one might have expected, but a sultry and refined work which exploits the timbres of period instruments in a thoroughly modern way. The slow movement, marked con morbidezza
, finds the lute plucking out what sounds suspiciously like a twelve-tone row over a background of recorder, harp, baroque violin, viola da gamba and violone that produces a most peculiar mix of sensibilities but has at the same time an odd fascination. The movement is headed by a quotation from Shakespeare: “The autumn of life is here, with sad faded flowers. Once they were beautiful in the rain.” This is by far the longest movement, and most of the finale is taken up by an accompanied lute cadenza which recalls material from the earlier movements but ends rather inconsequentially.
There then follow three short instrumental pieces. Colin Brumby
’s O sacred head sore wounded
is a straightforward chorale prelude for organ on the well-known Lutheran hymn also employed by Bach. It is followed after far too short a pause by Eric Goss’s Thanksgiving
, almost light music in feel with mildly bluesy overtones – like the sort of music one might encounter is an upmarket hotel bar which employs a pianist to accompany the guests’ conversation. Indeed it may have been intended for exactly that milieu, since we are informed that it was written to celebrate the fortieth wedding anniversary of two relatives of the composer. Dulcie Holland
returns, playing the piano herself in a very much more constricted acoustic, in a depiction of Fairy penguins
in a sort of cakewalk that sounds like Billy Mayerl.
After that it comes as somewhat of a shock to be plunged into the final item on the disc, an extended vocal piece by Derek Strahan
. I have recently reviewed a whole raft of recordings of this composer for this site (review
), and there discussed at some length his proposed cycle of operas based on the Atlantis myth. This chamber piece develops material intended for the first part of that cycle, but it does not have the immediate appeal of the Atlantis Variations
which I discussed in my earlier review. The recording is taken from a live performance, with the vocal soloist at times somewhat distanced; but this does not excuse her almost impenetrable diction. The words, by the composer himself (they are thankfully included in the booklet), are not great poetry; but the sometimes shrill and uncomfortable manner in which they are set do the text little justice even were the words as delivered by the singer ever comprehensible. The accompaniment suggests that the instrumental parts have been reduced from a full orchestral score, and at times one has a sense of the forces straining to contain the music and one longs for the sound of a large romantic orchestra. Flute and piano do the best they can. As a sample of the whole work, it is not very enticing; but one would welcome the chance to hear more of the score with more substantial forces since there are some very striking passages here.
This is a very mixed collection indeed, but the three main works on the disc all in their different ways repay the listener.
Paul Corfield Godfrey