> The Best of Peter Sculthorpe [PH]: Classical Reviews- March 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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The Best of Peter SCULTHORPE (b.1929)
The Fifth Continent: Small Town (1963)
Little Serenade (1968/1977/1983)
Sun Music III (1967)
Piano Concerto: Calmo (1983)
Earth Cry (1988)
Djilile (1977/1989)
Awake Glad Heart (1988)
Sonata for Strings No. 3 (1994)
Child of Australia: An Australian Anthem (1988)
Advance Australia Fair (1996)
Port Arthur; In Memoriam (1996)
Peter Sculthorpe (speaker); Joseph Ortuso (oboe); Bruce Lamont (trumpet); Mark Skillington (trumpet); Anthony Fogg (piano); Barbara Jane Gilby (soprano).
Synergy; Sydney Philharmonic Motet Choir; Graham Ashton Brass Ensemble.
Australian Chamber Orchestra; Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra; Melbourne Symphony Orchestra; Sydney Symphony Orchestra; Adelaide Symphony Orchestra.
Conductors: David Porcelijn; Myer Fredman; David Stanhope; Richard Tognetti; Antony Walker; Stuart Challender
ABC CLASSICS Eloquence 456 270-2 [69:24]


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As Peter Sculthorpe approaches his 73rd birthday, this disc is a welcome and timely reminder of the range and importance of the man who has devoted his life and music to the representation of Australia, and to the unique experience of ‘being’ Australian. It’s a pity that it doesn’t include anything from his large output for string quartet (15 to date) as it was his 8th Quartet that opened Kronos’s sensational debut album and effectively put Sculthorpe on the musical map. Still, we get a good cross-section of early, middle and recent work in what might well be called ‘definitive’ performances from indigenous artists Sculthorpe has worked with over the years.

The longest extract is rightly devoted to one of his famous ‘Sun Music’ series, begun in the mid-sixties and effectively establishing his Australian ‘credo’. The third dates from 1967 and as the composer later recalled," I wrote most of Sun Music III at a time when it was snowing up in New York State, and often I’d look out of the window and dream of a place like Bali, an endless warm paradise’. But as the critic Roger Covell has rightly warned, "this is not in any sense bronzed, swaggering holiday music … it has more to say about the mystery, fear and lonely glare of the sun than about the pleasures of warmth. This is sun music written by a composer living in a country where the sun can be as much an enemy as a friend." Indeed, the shimmering strings and Balinese-sounding percussion ensemble generate a strange and heady mixture; the tropical warmth that Sculthorpe was longing for is contrasted with Penderecki-style tone clusters that accurately reflect the beauty and danger of his subject.

The other substantial piece on the disc is Earth Cry, an orchestral work commissioned by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in 1986. There is a brooding menace from the slow introduction onwards, and much of the music is a genuine ‘cry’ of outrage for the land and its native inhabitants. As the composer so eloquently puts it, "Whenever I have returned from abroad in recent years, this country has seemed to me to be one of the last places on earth where one could write quick and joyous music. I decided therefore to write such a piece. [But] it soon became clear this would be dishonest of me … the lack of common cause and the self-interest of many have drained us (Australians) of much of our energy. A bogus national identity and its commercialisation have obscured the true breadth of our culture. Most of the jubilation, I came to feel, awaits us in the future. Perhaps we now need to attune ourselves to this continent, to listen to the cry of the earth, as the Aborigines have done for thousands of years."

The closest we get on the disc to his chamber output is the Sonata for Strings No. 3, rearranged in 1993 from his String Quartet No. 11 (Jabiru Dreaming), another Kronos-inspired work from 1990. In its ‘beefed-up’ form it emerges as a curiously English-sounding piece (its bird-like sound effects apart), and the rhythmic energy and contrapuntal interplay recall Tippett at his most ebullient. Another ‘Englishness’ is evoked in the short Christmas carol Awake, Glad Heart, originally composed in 1988 and also existing in a version for two trumpets and strings. Maybe Sculthorpe’s early studies at Oxford with, amongst others, Edmund Rubbra, were in the back of his mind here?

Of the rest of the works represented here, the unforced lyricism of the Little Serenade (1968) and Calmo movement from the Piano Concerto (1983) are hard to dislike; the sheer simplicity of utterance can sound astonishing for a contemporary composer. And yet this veritable celebration of traditional tonality is in many ways something to be grateful for. In an ever cynical modern world where ethics and honesty often count for little, the moving integrity of Peter Sculthorpe is a welcome tonic. This cheap, well-annotated and presented compilation can only help his cause.

Peter Haywood

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