When I first started listening to Australian Premières, I asked myself: “Is that real?” Was I hearing a booming and expressive orchestra, or was the sound delivered to me by technological means? I was leaning toward the latter until my suspicions were confirmed via the notes accompanying this album by David Stanhope & his Orchestra.
Three Australian symphonies are presented for the first time; Stanhope’s ethos being to “bring unknown or neglected music to life”. He argues that without this album (and its warm but mildly midi-sounding sample libraries), we’d not have the opportunity to listen. Indeed, we might not – and yet, the Symphony in C Minor by George Marshall-Hall opens this album as ambitiously as any work by a classical master.
The following Peter Tahourdin Symphony No 5 doesn’t flow well from the opening; its wilder dissonances seem out of place with the surrounding works, but it’s worthy of a standalone listen. David Morgan’s Symphony No 13 is filled with both frivolity and might through which we can forget the orchestral samples and just concentrate on the music.
Far from a concept album, Stanhope’s is an important contribution to Australian music. No, it doesn’t match the standard of a live orchestra. But I hope he returns to his digital instruments to realise more of the country’s unreasonably buried works. I’ll continue to listen.