> Edwards, Williamson, Sculthorpe piano concertos [RBr]: Classical Reviews- March 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Ross EDWARDS (b.1943). Queensland Symphony Orchestra/Myer Fredman, Dennis Hennig (piano)
Malcolm WILLIAMSON (b.1931). Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra/Barry Tuckwell, Malcolm Williamson and Simon Campion (pianos)
Peter SCULTHORPE (b. 1929). Melbourne Symphony Orchestra/Myer Fredman, Anthony Fogg (piano)
Australian Broadcasting Corporation 1982, 2000.
ABC CLASSICS 426 483-2 [60:56]

It could take a while to find any Australian piano concertos in current CD catalogues, so it is heartening that all three on this disc are worth hearing for their intrinsic merits as well as their comparative rarity. (Percy Grainger, probably Australia’s best-known composer, once declared the piano concerto to be "antithetical to Australia and all things Australian"!) Few contemporary Australian composers are widely celebrated in their own country and, so far as I know, only Williamson and Sculthorpe are names likely to be recognised in Europe. All the more exciting, then, to hear these accomplished performances in contrasting styles and authoritative interpretations.

Ross Edwards’ concise, three-movement concerto is full of original ideas expressed in a forthright diatonic idiom. The most accessible work on this disc, it could almost be called a chamber concerto; yet this is "big country" music, romantic but refreshingly unsentimental, like that of Copland. The concerto has considerable rhythmic subtlety, the bold cross-rhythms of the first movement aided and abetted by a percussive piano, followed by a more lyrical, reflective second movement full of night sounds and with Celtic overtones. A brilliant finale (do I discern a backward glance at Spanish Renaissance music? I think so) rounds off a most satisfying work.

Since 1950 Williamson has spent most of his creative life in London, and his music usually shows a closer affinity to Messian and Boulez than to native Australian influences. Few would assert that Australian music has yet found a truly individual voice and so it is, perhaps, irritating for composers of this stature that they tend to be judged in terms of European influences. Nevertheless, Williamson’s concerto can be identified with Stravinsky’s neo classical style -- restless, full of nervous energy and intricate dialogue between soloists and orchestra. The tension is high throughout, but the musical argument clear and persuasive.

Sculthorpe’s concerto is the most substantial and challenging on this disc, a dark and tragic work that received an award in 1983 for the Most Performed Australian Composition of that year. The concerto is divided into nine sections: Grave, Animato, Grave, Calmo, Animato. Risoluto, Come Notturno (cadenza) and Estatio which creates an evolving structure of complexity and power. In places it plays with minimalist techniques, but rises through them into powerful large-scale periods that show Sculthorpe to be a commanding voice calling to be heard in today’s feverish quest for superficial brilliance. For me Sculthorpe’s masterpiece is the best reason for buying this disc, though the other works on it are by no means inconsiderable.

Orchestral playing is brisk and polished throughout, in a no-nonsense Aussie manner, and the demanding solo parts of all three concertos are handled with a confident virtuosity that speaks of familiarity and affection. If the ABC can go on finding such worthwhile examples of modern antipodean composers I will be first in the queue to buy them.

Roy D. Brewer



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