a disc I would never have bought if
Naxos had not brought out in 2002 a
stunning recording of the three Douglas
Lilburn symphonies in which James Judd
conducted the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
1 and 2, with echoes of Vaughan Williams
and an occasional nod to Sibelius, and
even the grimmer Symphony No. 3, made
me want to hear more from this New Zealand
composer. No doubt some people became
fans of the landscape of New Zealand
by watching the Lord of the Rings film
trilogy Ö Lilburnís music, infused with
the sweep and grandeur of his native
land, will have the same effect.
symphonies are still the place to start
for those who want to experience this
composer. In addition to the Naxos account,
Continuum released a version in 1994
in which the NZSO is conducted by John
Hopkins. I havenít heard it so I canít
say how it compares to Juddís.
those who have already tried the symphonies
and like what they find, thereís more
to savor on this earlier disc of orchestral
pieces Ė the NZSO again, but led by
Sir William Southgate on this release
A Song of Islands, Drysdale
Overture, and much of Suite for
Orchestra will deliver the same
bracing feel as Symphonies 1 and 2.
A Birthday Offering has more
in common with the Symphony No. 3, but
is well worth hearing.
Vaughan Williams, with whom Lilburn
studied at the Royal College of Music
in London, is the chief touchstone;
but there are Sibelian touches as well.
And in the Suite for Orchestra
I hear suggestions of Aaron Copland
(as in the Lilburn Symphony No. 1).
Oddly, it is the Copland pieces that
are about the American West that I think
of here, Rodeo and Billy the
Kid, both of which in part reflect
landscape. In fact I wonder if that
is not the composer most listeners might
think of here. I thought of Copland
in A Birthday Offering as well.
sound is fine. Of the playing I can
only say that the New Zealand Symphony
Orchestra plays as if Lilburnís music
belongs to them, both when led by James
Judd, or here, under the baton of Sir
is one great drawback about this disc.
That is the complete lack of documentation
about the composer and the pieces. There
is information about the conductor and
the orchestra, but virtually nothing
about Lilburn (not even the dates of
I know from Robert Hoskinsí notes accompanying
the Naxos account of the symphonies
that Drysdale Overture is from
1937, and that A Song of Islands
is from 1946 (the year the New Zealand
Symphony Orchestra was formed, by the
way Ė I wonder if this might have been
one of the first pieces they performed?)
Both of those works, especially the
longer A Song of Islands, could
be seen as prep work for Lilburnís Symphony
No. 1 (completed in 1949, first played
notes to the Naxos disc also say that
Lilburn grew up on "Drysdale,"
a hill country farm near the mountain
plateau in New Zealandís North Island,
and that he thought of his boyhood home
as "paradise." Obviously itís
that boyish sense of wonder that heís
invested in Drysdale Overture
and the other pieces on this disc.
like E.J. Moeran, never ceased to be
moved by his own familiar geography.
As with a Moeran or a John Constable,
one senses an artist who has pierced
to the root of things to find out something
true by grappling all his life with
the same bit of native soil. Highly
by Rob Barnett