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Peter SCULTHORPE (born 1929)
Irkanda I (1955)a
Irkanda IV (1961)a
Lament (1991)b
Second Sonata for Strings (1988)
Cello Dreaming (1998)b
Djilile (2001)
Emma-Jane Murphy (cello)b; Richard Tognetti (violin)a
Australian Chamber Orchestra/Richard Tognetti
Recorded: City Recital Hall, Angel Place, Sydney, June 2001
CHANDOS CHAN 10063 [66:10]


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The main attraction in this release is the inclusion of the early Irkanda I (although this piece has been recorded before) and Cello Dreaming of which this is the first recording, if I am not mistaken. This piece, however, must not be confused with its shorter cousin bearing the same title but written for solo cello.

Irkanda I for solo violin was completed in 1955 and is one of the early pieces that Sculthorpe still acknowledges. He also composed Irkanda II (for string quartet) and Irkanda III (for piano trio), now withdrawn although there still exists a short piece From Irkanda III for piano trio. Irkanda IV for violin, strings and percussion is one of his finest scores ever and unquestionably one of his best-loved works. Irkanda I is a free fantasy already displaying several characteristics which we have come to regard now as Sculthorpe’s trademarks, including bird-like glissandi, long-drawn singing lines as well as a real flair for string writing. Sculthorpe has withdrawn a number of his early works, but he is never one to waste a good idea; material from earlier discarded works has often been recycled in later pieces. Irkanda IV is no exception. Sculthorpe reworked some material from the song cycle Sun to words by D.H. Lawrence, from Irkanda II and from the Sonata for Viola and Percussion into what was to become one of his most popular works. This beautifully moving piece is a deeply felt elegy prompted by the recent death of his father and by the death of Wilfrid and Peggy Mellers’ baby. Irkanda IV is thus an intensely personal work in which Sculthorpe put all his heart; and the tense urgency of the present recording (the third by the A.C.O.) has a gripping poignancy, partly missing in the earlier recordings. It is perfectly suited to the elegiac character of this deeply moving threnody.

Lament was originally written for strings in 1976. Fifteen years later, Sculthorpe slightly reworked it by extending the prominent cello part. The version for cello and strings is, of course, the one heard here, beautifully played by Emma-Jane Murphy.

Sculthorpe’s three Sonatas for Strings are arrangements of three string quartets from various periods of his composing life. The Second Sonata for Strings is based on the Ninth String Quartet of 1975.

Cello Dreaming for cello, strings and percussion was written on a commission from the BBC and was first performed by Steven Isserlis and the BBC Philharmonic conducted by Yan Pascal Tortelier. Melody is clearly at the heart of this richly lyrical work that again generously draws from Sculthorpe’s sources. The big tune has a clear Balinese ring (not a rarity in Sculthorpe’s output) and sings along in ecstatic elation, subtly punctuated by metal percussion and enshrined in bird-like glissandi (another Sculthorpe fingerprint). The composer obviously poured all his heart into this lushly Romantic work that makes a most welcome entry into his abundant discography. Another immaculate reading by Emma-Jane Murphy who plays throughout with remarkable aplomb.

The Aborigine tune Djilili ("Whistling-duck on the billabong") has become Sculthorpe’s signature tune for this tune, already heard in the early Fourth String Quartet on 1950, has remained with him since then. He made several arrangements of it for various instrumental combinations (cello and piano, piano, percussion, string quartet, viol consort and chamber orchestra) and the version for string orchestra heard here was made as recently as 2001.

The Australian Chamber Orchestra has a long association with Sculthorpe’s music which they have played and recorded on many occasions. These performances recorded in the presence of the composer could not be bettered. Though it inevitably duplicates parts of the earlier recordings (either Southern Cross or ABC Classics), this is a most desirable release. This is particularly true in the case of the rarely heard Irkanda I and the beautiful Cello Dreaming.

Hubert Culot



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