Julian Day


March 21, 2013
CD and Other Review

Review: Carl Vine: String Quartets (Goldner Quartet)

Carl Vine has always been suave. From his early dance scores in
the 1970s (he wrote his first in high school) to his larger orchestral works of the ‘80s onwards, his music has remained assured, tuneful and immaculately crafted. For an artist who’s also helped direct the world’s largest chamber music organisation, Musica Viva Australia, for over a decade, the string quartet seems like his perfect medium. This disc brings together the bulk of his quartets to date: four full works (Nos 2, 3, 4 and 5) and two movements from his first foray into the medium, Knips Suite from 1979. Effortlessly written yet tightly constructed, from the outset they offered a compelling alternative to the dominant avant-garde movement of the time. String Quartet No 3 snaps and crackles with pop-like energy. The work plays on looping rhythms, bringing to mind Assez vif – Très rythmé from Ravel’s entry in the genre, as well as the Balinese rice-pounding rhythms of Sculthorpe’s celebrated Eighth Quartet. The opening saws away like an especially intense blues vamp, a moody and capricious solo line bounding over the top. There follows a hazy, reflective middle section before the opening energy returns to close. The Quartet No…

November 14, 2012
CD and Other Review

Review: John Cage: As it is (Alexei Lubimov, Natalia Pschenitschnikova)

It’s tempting to think of John Cage as the dangerous, if smiling, radical. After all, he did pioneer the prepared piano, welcomed turntables and radios into the concert hall, and scored the most famous four-and-a-half minutes of silence in history. Unlike his close colleague Morton Feldman, however, the musicality of his work is easily overlooked. This haunting recording from ECM reminds us of the colour, precision and sheer beauty of his compositions. The pieces are mostly from Cage’s early rhythmic period, the 1930s and ‘40s, and are for solo piano or prepared piano with occasional voice. Pianist Alexei Lubimov is a significant proponent of 20th-century music in Russia, giving premieres of pieces by Boulez, Stockhausen and Ligeti; by the time he met Cage in 1988, he had been playing this music for decades. He is also known for his Haydn and Mozart, and to that end brings a considered, even classical approach to Cage’s work. The opening Dream of 1948 sets a tone of hypnotising reverie. By contrast, the chiming pieces for prepared piano, such as the buoyant The Unavailable Memory Of, are rhythmically repetitive; other works are a little more astringent and evoke Cage’s teacher Schoenberg and the ghost…

November 2, 2012
CD and Other Review

Review: Westlake: Missa Solis – Requiem for Eli (Liam Crisanti, MSO and Chorus/Westlake)

Before 2008, Nigel Westlake was simply one of our most successful composers, his many film scores complementing a growing acclaim in the concert hall. After 2008, he became a father in mourning. It was in this year that Westlake’s 21-year-old son Eli was killed, leaving the composer deep in grief and suddenly bereft of meaning. It took a whole year before Westlake could compose again and he turned to a work that, ironically, he’d already sketched before Eli’s death. Missa Solis builds on themes from Westlake’s earlier film score Solarmax, transforming mythological and astronomical references to the sun into a hymn to his tragically lost son. The 16th-century ode from which Missa Solis grows takes on a new weight in this context: “My joy is born every time I gaze at my beautiful sun”. Added to this are texts from Shakespeare, Pharaoh Akhenaten and The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. Across its eight movements, this secular mass is a focused refinement of what Westlake does best, drawing together perfectly crafted miniatures sculpted with imaginative colour and lingering emotion. The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and Chorus are at their peak throughout, in clear artistic sympathy under Westlake’s guidance. The solo treble…

October 12, 2012
CD and Other Review

Review: Grant Foster: The Pearl of Dubai Suite

Whoever said grand sweeping melodies were a thing of the past? Grant Foster clearly has a penchant for the archetype of the brooding Russian virtuoso pianist-composer, despite being based in Bowral. You may remember Foster from his in-depth Limelight interview a few months back. After initially studying in Sydney he set off for Paris and London, where he built up a solid reputation as a pianist and composer before returning to Australia to settle in rural NSW. This CD is a follow up to The Music of Grant Foster and features two main works: the Russian-inspired The Pearl of Dubai suite for piano, cello and orchestra, and a setting of Oscar Wilde’s The Ballad of Reading Gaol for tenor and piano. As a bonus there is a DVD of the Ballad and part of the suite played live in concert. The overall impression of Foster’s orchestral music is that of a stirring and decadent black-and-white film score, albeit with super-smooth edges and superior sound quality. The pieces are unashamedly Romantic, as if Rachmaninov had been cryogenically frozen and thawed out in the 21st century. The Pearl of Dubai is the most ambitious work here, a set of mini tone poems…

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