> Lilburn Symphonies 1-3 [RB]: Classical CD Reviews- Nov 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Douglas LILBURN (1915-2001)
Symphony No. 1 (1949) [31.13]
Symphony No. 2 (1951) [31.18]
Symphony No. 3 (1961) [14.45]
New Zealand SO/James Judd
rec Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington, NZ, 29-31 May 2001 DDD
NAXOS 8.555862 [77.16]


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Taking account of the Continuum (mostly 1960s reissues of LP recordings) and Kiwi-Pacific (new recordings) versions this is the third CD of Lilburn's trilogy of symphonies and all three have used New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. I do not see you going wrong with any of the three versions.

Copland, Roy Harris, Nielsen and Sibelius are Lilburn's stylistic compass points. In fact the ice cold draughts of Sibelius's Sixth and (up to a point) Third Symphonies are clearly role models for the first two symphonies. High and shining strings often either singing long-breathed melodies or snapping out tight little rhythmic figures are the hallmarks of these two works. Sibelius's Seventh is alluded to at 9.02 in the first movement of the First Symphony. Copland's outdoor manner of the 1940s is also in evidence. There has been talk of the influence of Lilburn's teacher, Ralph Vaughan Wiliams but frankly I don't hear it.

The Third Symphony, written a decade after the Second, is a single quarter hour movement. It is a rather taciturn piece which buries the Sibelian gene pretty deeply. Going by this Symphony Lilburn found the need to change gear in the 1960s (mind you, who knows what a Sibelius symphony written in 1954 might have sounded like!) . The Third protests, rebels, scowls and meanders gloomily. It does so with some rasping dissonance without the wilder avant-garde extremes. It seems a work of disillusion and ends in mid-step. I have known the symphony now for upwards of twenty years and it strikes me as an unsatisfactory work.

I noted that Naxos provide translations of the notes into the predictable German and French but also the less predictable Spanish; a reflection perhaps of the rising significance of the Spanish language - for example in the USA.

I urge you to seek out this bargain price disc especially if you have a taste for Sibelius and Copland. Those who take to this music should next urgently seek out Randall Thompson's three symphonies for they have a similar ardour and life-force if less of the Sibelian manner..

Rob Barnett

see also review by Jonathan Woolf

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