Over the last decade, through their Australian Composer Series the Tasmanian Symphony has done more to promote Australian music than the Sydney, Melbourne, Queensland, West Australian Orchestras and Opera Australia combined.
The 15 CDs have been sold individually, in two five-CD box sets, and the highlights on two samplers. In this, the third five-CD box set, we see forgotten masters Malcolm Williamson and Peggy Glanville-Hicks brought together with Richard Meale, Gerard Brophy and Brett Dean. In all cases these recordings are overdue, bursting with works that have long been out of circulation. Their value to libraries, composers and musicians cannot be overestimated.
My personal favourite is the Peggy Glanville-Hicks record. Opening with the ebullient Etruscan Concerto, played with humour and fine feeling by Caroline Almonte, although the orchestral tuttis could be faster and lighter. The late Deborah Riedel appears in the ‘Final Scene’ from Sappho. This exquisite excerpt is even more poignant with Riedel’s voluptuous, creamy voice in fine form in this, one of her last recordings. Tragic Celebration, Glanville-Hicks’s second last major work becomes more elegaic seemingly previewing the end of her creative career. Letters from Morocco, here in a live recording by Gerald English, is also a welcome inclusion. Glanville-Hicks is overdue for a major revival and hopefully this CD will help to build some momentum for her music.
Malcolm Williamson likewise is appallingly underrepresented on CD, and like Glanville-Hicks one wonders why, given they both wrote music that is tuneful, interesting and attractive. The Suite from his opera, Our Man in Havana, is voluble, effusive and charming, it could just as easily be by Bernstein, as could the brilliant concert overture Santiago de Espada. The more serious concert works include the Sinfonia Concertante and the Sinfonietta which both crackle with Stravinskian neoclassical energy, while the Epitaphs for Edith Sitwell show the more austere side of Williamson’s serial works.
Richard Meale, our neglected grandmaster, is a maze of contradictions, all of which are perfectly captured here. The CD opens with the Concert Monologue from his second opera Mer de Glace, some of his most sumptuously lush writing, and leads into Cantilena Pacifica, the great Australian string masterpiece. That is then cut by the tartness of his Variations and later
by the Homage to Garcia Lorca, a taut masterwork in a “tough” idiom. His Clouds now and then, inspired by a haiku of Basho, combines a sensuous approach to sound with cutting harmonies and Japanese gestures. My favourite track is his very late work Lumen, in which all subject matter seems to fall away to be replaced by waves of pure sound, embodying another famous Basho haiku “the temple bells stops, but the sound keeps coming out of the flowers”.
Brett Dean’s CD contains a number of works that explore sound textures, Testament, Shadow Music and Etudenfest amongst them. I was most taken by Between Moments, his memorial to former ACO principal cellist Cameron Retchford who died in tragic circumstances at age 38, played most sensitively by Sue Ellen Poulsen (who also knew Cameron well). Some essence of Cameron’s personality seems perfectly captured in this succinct memorial. Game Over, one of Dean’s most compelling scores, gets a superb performance and Bob Scott’s sound design work gives it an extraordinary sense of layering. It is one of the most successful electro-acoustic works ever written – a real tour de force.
Finally Gerry Brophy gets a long overdue CD of orchestral works. The Republic of Dreams was the first of his world music-influenced scores after he broke with the prevailing modernist tradition of his early works. It is a particularly appealing Arabic sounding work that creates Oud-like sounds on the harp, all interwoven by darabukka rhythms while the strings play re-workings of Middle Eastern licks. Mantras displays Brophy at his most reflective and affecting, Maracatú is one of his now trademark Afro-Latin works and Forbidden Colours was one of his first to break from his maximalist beginnings of which Le Réveil de l’ange is a perfect example.
In these recordings the TSO proves it is one of our finest orchestras. These releases are to be enthusiastically applauded.
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