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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