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Douglas LILBURN (1915-2001) Aotearoa Overture (1940)
Anthony WATSON (1933-1973) Prelude and Allegro for Strings (1960)
Anthony RITCHIE (b.1960) The Hanging Bulb (1989)
Christopher BLAKE (b.1949) Till Human Voices Wake Us (1986)
Gillian WHITEHEAD (b.1941) Resurgences (1989)
Jenny McLEOD (b.1941) Little Symphony (1963)
David FARQUHAR (b.1928) A short suite from "Ring Around the Moon" (1975)
Larry PRUDEN (1925-1982) Harbour Nocturne (mid-1950s) (no specific given)
Edwin CARR (b.1926) The Snow Maiden (1963)
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra/Kenneth Young
Recorded, with the support of the Arts Council of New Zealand (Toi Aotearoa) in Symphony House, Wellington, New Zealand, date not stated, disc released 1995
CONTINUUM CCD 1073-2 [61.09+62.57]

An excellent, general introduction to the music emanating from New Zealand in the late twentieth century, excluding only the more recent discoveries, e.g. Lyell Creswell (well represented on other Continuum discs) and Jack Body (you may have heard his wonderful miniature Long Ge on the Kronos Quartet's Ancient Music).

The double CD kicks off with Douglas Lilburn (often described, with good reason, as the doyen of NZ composers) and his early Aotearoa Overture, named for the Maori name for NZ and translating as "land of the long white cloud". An elemental piece, complete with Sibelian inflections, it is nonetheless less granitic and more overtly optimistic than the formidable symphonies (check the recent Naxos release), a factor that gives it a more American, "wide open spaces" feel than the later works, though think more in terms of David Diamond than Roy Harris at this juncture.

The short Anthony Watson piece (Prelude and Allegro for Strings) that follows is an altogether more astringent affair, although in the most listenable sense of the word, often evoking Bartok or, if we are to pursue the Nordic comparisons, Vagn Holmboe.

Ritchie's The Hanging Bulb is an introspective tour de force that features a moody and drifting extended opening section before exploding in a burst of nervous energy which turns into something that could be perhaps described as quasi-minimalist in its Adams like feel. Despite its rather grim origins (see the booklet note for details), this work impresses with its deftness of touch and subtle yet strong evocation of ambiguous feelings.

Blake's Till Human Voices Wake Us is an extended piece for tenor and orchestra that is reminiscent at times, both in structure and feeling, of Kenneth Leighton's powerful final movement, also for tenor and orchestra, to his third symphony. The texts, taken from "classics of the NZ peace movement", in some ways belie the brooding intensity of the music - uneasy but gripping listening.

The first disc concludes with Gillian Whitehead's Resurgences, a work inspired by the geothermal activities of her homeland. It seems no coincidence that she studied with Peter Maxwell Davies in that comparison of this music with some of the later of his more serious pieces (e.g. the 5th symphony) seem entirely justified. The same, powerfully distilled evocation of primal nature, again subconsciously echoing Sibelius (?), is definitely present here.

Disc 2 is a generally lighter affair but contains some exquisite music. Jenny McLeod's spiky, bustling Little Symphony sets the tone in one sense in that it brings Igor Stravinsky into the frame of influence but the rest of the music on this disc is rather less abrasive. Farquhar's suite from Ring Around the Moon is not a thousand miles removed from some of David Lyon's recent efforts but with some additional acidic barbs to liven things - the composer mentions Mahler and Schubert (presumably the martial pastiches) as influences but the burlesque side of Stravinsky and the film music and jazz suites of Shostakovich also loom large. In terms of memorability the jaunty Polka takes the prize, coming on like a lost piece from Berners' The Triumph of Neptune. The suite as a whole is, I'm sure, something that connoisseurs of ASV's White Line imprint would lap up.

Pruden's beautiful Harbour Nocturne could well be my favourite piece on this recording. It is a gentle but evocative and atmospheric coastscape that would not appear inferior alongside Copland's less ebullient but still accessible moments (Quiet City, New England Countryside etc.). Carr's ballet that follows couldn't be more different but is also an eminently listenable piece - Stravinsky (again!) and Tchaikovsky as influences are again evoked and, unsurprisingly, thoughts turn to Jeu de Cartes and Fairy's Kiss. The booklet quotes his disdain for the "decadence of European art" and I am sure that we all understand the subtext of this comment and would concur or disagree according to personal preference. As far as I am concerned, I wouldn’t want to listen to it every day (there are not many things I would!) but it is far preferable to many more "serious" pieces, both past and present.

Neil Horner


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