Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Music Webmaster Len Mullenger:


Fanfares by: Christopher BLAKE Auckland!, Eve de CASTRO ROBINSON Other echoes, John RIMMER Vulcan, Juliet PALMER Secret Arnold, John PSATHAS Luminous, Lisa MERIDAN-SKIPP firecracker, John ELMSLY Resound!, Dorothy BUCHANAN Peace, Chris CREE BROWN Y2K Pacemaker, Philip DADSON MAYA, David HAMILTON Zarya.
Auckland Philharmonia/Miguel Harth-Bedoya, James Sedares, Nicholas Braithwaite, Kazufumi Yamashita, Samuel Wong, Edvard Tchivzhel, Vladimir Verbitsky, Yip Wing-Sie, Anthony Halstead
rec Auckland Town Hall, 1999-2000
Atoll ACD 100 [56.07]


OK, so the millennium celebrations and all the attendant hype are now well and truly over. Your first reaction on reading the heading above might well be to click that mouse button and quickly move on to the next review. But hold fast! Here is an extraordinary CD that will doubtless rate as one of my records of the year and deserves a hearing from anyone with the slightest interest in contemporary music.

In 1998 the Auckland Philharmonia commissioned eleven fanfares from local New Zealand born or based composers to be premiered by the orchestra in the year leading up to 31st December 1999 and the turn of the millennium. Each fanfare was to be approximately three minutes long and both reflect the composer's feelings about the twentieth century as well as give a vision for the future.

The end result, as captured on this CD, is a triumph for all concerned and calls into question, once again, the easy assumption by those of us in the North that the serious- music art form is neither extensively practised nor as fully developed in the Southern Hemisphere. On this evidence New Zealand, in particular, is rich in remarkably talented composers, any one of which needs to be taken as seriously as (say) a Thomas Adès, James MacMillan, Eino Rautavaara, Aaron Jay Kernis, John Adams or Poul Ruders. Indeed, in each of the five-minute fanfares (few of the composers were able, understandably, to meet the three minute deadline) one senses a freedom of expression in the post-modernist genre that can hardly be matched by their more famous American and European counterparts. The slight feeling of guilt that is found in so much northern post-modern music, coming, as it does, straight out of the seventy year stranglehold of the modernists and the new Vienna school, is entirely absent in these superbly confident and brilliantly crafted miniature tone poems.

None of the works on this CD is a fanfare as we would usually term it; there are no simple brass/drum pieces such as Copland's great Fanfare for the Common Man nor are there the kind of things heard at civil, military or religious ceremonies. Each composer has written a short work in a style of his or her own and all of them are miracles of compression and depth.

After Christopher Blake's Auckland! - a superb opening piece conducted by James Sedares and recorded in March 2000, Atoll's producers have bravely presented the live recordings in the exact order of performance throughout the year 1999. Remarkably this works perfectly; there is no feeling that a different order would have been preferable. 

Each piece has enormous amounts to offer and none of them feel like a five-minute work.

Eve de Castro-Robinson's Other echoes is a fine example of contemporary compositional style with tremendous use of colour from the high bassoons, scordatura-sounding violin, and wind choirs. John Rimmer's Vulcan is one of only two more modernistic pieces to be found on this disc, but nevertheless is as exciting as any, with repeated melodic threads and fascinating orchestrations. Juliet Palmer (one of four women composers featured here) has provided a wonderfully conceived and written piece, Secret Arnold, as her 'end-of-century remix of Schoenberg, Randy (Chin) and Portishead'.

The longest piece on the CD at six and a half minutes is John Psathas's Luminous which explores the subject of global travel (a largely twentieth century invention) using long block chords of shifting harmonies, leading, through a huge crescendo, to the sudden emergence of a simple major chord which manages to clarify meaning without in any way sounding corny. The only slight disappointment with this CD is the lack of biographies of the composers, although they each write their own short introductions to their pieces. We are told, however, that Lisa Meridan-Skipp was included as a result of winning the Auckland Philharmonia's Century Fanfare Competition for 'younger composers'. Whatever her exact age, her firecracker is a miniature masterpiece with the screaming rockets (high) and bangers (low) beautifully pictured in the context of time moving inexorably past - with small bells and chimes.

Dorothy Buchanan's Peace would be a great concert opener for any orchestra. A dance-like rhythm is immediately established on small bongo-like drums which never cease throughout. Above this 'terra firma' hang great brass and string chords which had my spine tingling. One aspect which is common to all of these pieces is use of instrumental colour and Peace is a fine example of this. John Elmsly's Resound! and Chris Cree Brown's Y2K Pacemaker both create tremendous excitement, the latter mocking (correctly as it turned out) the 'bizarre reactions' and paranoia created by fears of the millennium bug. The 'frenzied apprehension' is brilliantly portrayed by screaming violins and somewhat nauseous downward slides from the brass.

The last two works on the CD ultimately sum up the whole. In a pair of masterpieces Philip Dadson's MAYA thoroughly entertains, again with maximum use of colour, with driven motifs from at least two bass trombones, strings, percussion and tympani. The audience's (slightly early) applause and cheering is thoroughly deserved as it is for David Hamilton's Zarya which, with subtle but not pervading influences from film composer John Williams, provides a five minute continuous crescendo, full of affirmation for the future and incorporating an organ-based harmonic shift of great effect to describe the rising of the sun on a world, not greatly changed, perhaps, by the mere change of 'significant' date but, nevertheless, shining on a human race questing for knowledge.

Apart from James Sedares, none of the conductors is well known to European and American audiences. They all do a fine job as does the extraordinary Auckland Philharmonia who gave these ten live performances over a mere six month period. Their playing is world-class. It would be good to see European and American orchestras being prepared to commit to such a challenge.

Whoever was responsible for setting up this series, arranging for the recordings and, in particular, choosing the composers, deserves the highest possible praise. The sound engineers of 'Concert FM' provide brilliant hi-fi sound (try MAYA for example), yet did this over eleven different concerts!

If this CD was on a major label, differently titled for a post-millennium audience, and properly marketed it could and should be a major best-seller. But, for now, rush to acquire this disc as soon as you possibly can. For it too faces the march of time.

Simon Foster



Collections of fanfares are if not unheard of at least unusual. There have been previous collections. I can think of the RCA anthology of British fanfares reissued on Chandos and the Koch anthology based on those commissioned by Eugene Goossens in the 1940s.

The present anthology is taken from concert performances of works for full orchestra. They strain at the bounds of what we expect from a Fanafere. All are lucidly recorded with great resonance and with applause. The composers are not household names in the international concert world. The Blake is a work of fresh grandeur. The Castro-Robinson reflects flighty modernism: Ariel careering around the skies with hints of Pettersson, Messiaen, Rautavaara (those arctic birds are very familiar) and Turnage. Rimmer's grim gruff brassy expostulation took me back to Arthur Butterworth's Symphony No. 1 - especially the finale. Palmer's work is oddly titled, a rich Schoenbergian mix with The Wailers it wont come easy and Only You by Portishead. More attractive than you might imagine. Psathas's work is a Petterssonian lament for a friend who moved from New Zealand to China but was overwhelmed by the pressure to assimilate into a culture so radically different. The Meridan-Skipp work is fragmentary - flooded with explosive squeals and ringing ticking effects. The Elmsly bends minimalism with Arnold like lyrical release and percussive rush. The Buchanan is alive with sounds associated with Pacific culture, woody drum rhythms, Gareth Farr's excitement and Lilburn's Sibelian rise and fall. Much the same qualities seem at first to shake and shimmer through MAYA with added pepper and with shouts by the men of the orchestra however this seems a rough draft rather than fully conceived statement. Brown harries us with piercing bird shriek string figures and angry brass - not the most appealing work on the disc. Hamilton uses the Russian word for 'sunrise' in a five minute crescendo rising from a crystalline pp, developing with rustling vitality and punchy affirmation into the rolling fanfares so typical of Lilburn and Hanson.

None of these works are archetype fanfares. They might just as easily be called tone poems. They are challenging but yield results with moderately rugged persistence.

Rob Barnett

In case of difficulty available from Atoll ltd, PO Box 99039, Newmarket, Auckland, New Zealand.  - fax +64 9 529 9207

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