Released to coincide with International Women’s Day, this timely ABC two-disc compilation reminds us just how many first-rate Australian composers are women, while hopefully providing a nudge to concert promoters that Australia boasts a rich catalogue of outstanding works, many of which deserve to get far more of a hearing in concert programs than is actually the case.
The first disc is devoted to three 20th-century pioneers who successfully pushed back against the system in order to get their music played, and in this case recorded too. The First Piano Concerto of Miriam Hyde (1913 – 2005) is a substantial and richly Romantic work that can hold its own alongside the likes of Medtner and even Rachmaninov. It’s played here with authority and facility by the composer herself and the West Australian Symphony Orchestra. Dulcie Holland (1913 – 2000) was a great musical educator and her Piano Trio of 1944 is a charming work, here played live by the Eggner Trio (consumptive coughing and all, but don’t be put off – it’s liveable with)
Even more impressive is the work of Peggy Glanville-Hicks (1912 – 1990), perhaps Australia’s finest composer (and yes, I’m looking at you, the late and indubitably great Peter Sculthorpe). Her Etruscan Concerto from 1954 reflects both her European outlook and her self-imposed exile from our shores. It’s a quirky, instantly appealing work and perfectly finessed by pianist Caroline Almonte and the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra under Richard Mills.
Disc two begins with the slightly older Margaret Sutherland (1897 – 1984) who studied with Bax but struggled for years with a husband who considered her work unbecoming of a woman. Her 1934 Violin Concerto comes up freshly minted in the hands of Leonard Dommett and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, led by the great Australian conductor Patrick Thomas.
From here on in it’s a roll call of Australia’s current crop of women composers. Anne Boyd’s atmospheric 1975 choral masterpiece As I Crossed a Bridge of Dreams has been taken into the international repertoire and received a number of fine recordings. This one, by The Contemporary Singers under Antony Walker, is spot on. The Sydney Alpha Ensemble and David Stanhope play Elena Kats-Chernin’s delightful Russian Rag, while Claire Edwardes and Karin Schaupp are definitive on marimba and guitar in Maria Grenfell’s refreshingly groovy Di Primavera.
Pianist and composer Sally Whitwell lends her exuberant personality to Road Trip, a sparkling miniature for flute (here the excellent Sally Walker) and piano, while Ensemble Offspring is captured in impressive detail playing Kate Moore’s haunting Fern and Jessica Wells’ arrangement of Brenda Gifford’s Bardju (Footprints). Nicole Murphy’s Spinning Top finds the Benaud Trio on glittering form before the ACO Collective round things off with Crystalline by Olivia Bettina Davies, at just over 30, the youngest of these dozen fine composers.
This is what all compilations should offer: complete works, skilfully curated, and with a point to make. A self-recommending guided tour through 85 years of music by Australian women.
Composer: Hyde, Glanville-Hicks et al
Catalogue Number: ABC Classics 4817995 (2CD)