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The Original – Music For A Champagne Breakfast

Indian Summer for Piano solo (1973) [3.00]

Borromeo Suite for Flute and Guitar (1990) [10.05]
Vernon LISLE

Piano Sonata no. 1 (1960) [9.00]
Piano Sonata no. 2 (1975) [13.30]

Pastels for solo Clarinet (1985) [4.55]

Champagne Bay for Piano solo (1993) [6.20]

Strings Sonorous 1, 2 & 3 (1991) [3.50]

Mikri Thalassa (Little Sea) for Mandolin Orchestra (1993) [5.25]

Three Pieces for Piano from ‘Look at the Stars’ (1978) [4.25]

Escorts for Flute, Saxophone and Piano (1988) [12.10]
Betty Beath, Joan Chatres Lisle, Ann Carr-Boyd, Roland Peelman (piano); Megan Franklin, Julia Fekete Berky (flute); Roslyn Dunlop (clarinet); Albin Berky (saxophone); Kelly Jeffs, Barbara Hooper (guitar); The Sydney Mandolins – Adrian Hooper; Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra/Patrick Thomas
Unspecified recording dates. Unspecified recording locations
JADE JADCD-1085 [72.50]

Presentation is not the strong point of this disc of late twentieth century music by Australian composers. As will be noted above there is no information provided as to when or where (or even why) the recordings were made. The disc does not even have a label name to go with the number and the booklet (using the term in its broadest possible sense) is a single piece of paper, picture on the front and "notes" on the back. The detail in these notes is astonishing. In reference to track 9 the notes say, "Ann Carr-Boyd is featured with her colourful ‘Look at the Stars’." There is more information in the track listing on the back of the CD, which at least points out that there are three pieces. In relation to track 4 the notes state that Roslyn Dunlop "displays great imagination in her interpretation of the music". She may well, but this tells us nothing about the music or her interpretation of it. Even the title of the disc is unexplained. What any of it has to do with champagne breakfasts is anyone’s guess.

Not wanting to sound too miserable however, it should be understood from the outset that the music on this disc is actually rather interesting. One would hesitate to call it ‘modern’ Australian music, because, for the most part, it is all resolutely traditional. This would probably give the disc greater appeal than would a disc of cutting edge electronics. Most enjoyable are the three pieces called Strings Sonorous 1, 2 and 3 by Eric Gross and the two piano sonatas of Vernon Lisle. The Gross is an example of lush post-romantic harmony performed with real beauty of sound by the strings of the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra. Although a short work Gross maintains enough intensity in the writing to give the impression of discourse on a much larger scale. The Lisle Piano sonata no 1 is a minimalist-inspired work, juxtaposing vigorous rhythmic writing with interpolations of a more melodic kind. The writing is taut and the performance (by Lisle’s late wife Joan Chatres Lisle) is compelling, even if the recorded sound is a little hard. Some greater ambience in the recording process would have given that lift to the piano sound which allows bloom to develop. This is more apparent in the second sonata (presumably recorded at a different time or place) in which the piano sound is excellent. This is a large-scale work in three movements, the last of which is a lively jig. Although consciously traditional in language Lisle’s ability to handle harmony and create plangent melodic lines (notable in the elegant middle movement) is considerable.

Of interest for reasons of simple beauty is Colin Brumby’s Borromeo Suite for flute and guitar. It could be said that this music verges on the trite, but there is actually something immediately attractive about its very classical simplicity. The work is named after the Italian Borromeo family whose home is on the Isola Bella in Lake Maggiore in Northern Italy. The other two movements are named after the other main islands of the lake. Although there does not appear to be any specific attempt at programmatic writing, there is perhaps some aspect of the lazy beauty of summer days in the Italian lake region in this music; no great complexity but a simple effectiveness, which tends more towards the ‘charming’ than anything else.

Only two tracks make any use of particularly modern approaches. The work for solo clarinet – Pastels (1985) – by Ian Dunlop employs some more advanced instrumental techniques. It displays in the performance of Roslyn Dunlop a wide range of dynamics, articulations and colours. There are several interesting noises that one suspects might not by entirely as the score suggests, but the sound-world of this short piece is interesting nonetheless. Derek Strahan’s Escorts (1988) uses fewer extended techniques in the individual instrumental parts, but employs some complicated ensemble relationships between the flute, saxophone and piano. The Berky Trio negotiate these with considerable flair, and also manage to maintain an adequate balance between the flute and saxophone timbres – no mean feat.

While one remains uncertain as to whom this disc is aimed at (the appearance being that it was made for the benefit of the composers represented rather than for any potential listener) it remains an interesting collection of music showing one side of twentieth century Australian musical thought.

Peter Wells


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