The appearance of this
disc coincides with a recently released
Sculthorpe collection from ABC (476
192-1 [70:40]). The Australian disc
has Earth Cry [11:06]; Mangrove
(1979) [15:05]; Songs of Sea and
Sky (1987) [16:04]; Kakadu
[16:14]; From Ubirr (1994) [12:10].
The artists include William Barton (didjeridu)
who also plays the same instrument on
the Naxos with the Queensland Orchestra
conducted by Michael Christie. Only
two works overlap and Sculthorpe’s many
admirers must have both discs.
The new Naxos CD sounds
stunning - a magnificent piece of work
technically and artistically. The gravelly
abrasive bass reaches out to the listener.
Earthcry is deeply moving seeming
to speak to the listener in alien but
enthralling ways across the millennia.
As for the didjeridu its role is as
crucial as that of the duduk in Avet
Terteryan’s Third Symphony, as the Uillean
Pipes in Fleischmann’s Clare’s Dragoons,
as the whale sounds in Hovhaness’s ...
And God Created Great Whales and
as the avian tapes in Rautavaara’s Cantus
Memento Mori is
founded on reflections on the fate of
the people of Easter Island who despoiled
the land and then destroyed each other.
The piece has dignity and pomp and a
grandeur of purpose which combines the
weighty tread of William Alwyn’s Hydriotaphia,
Hovhaness’s most tragic utterances and
Rubbra’s symphonic gravity. The work
makes sparing use of the Dies Irae
and grounds this with the oscillation
on the pitches G and A flat - said by
the astronomer Kepler to be the sound
of the planet earth. The ecological
message is clear and there is a redemption
in hope in the sweetened writing for
strings at 10:40 onwards.
is good to hear Tamara Anna Cisłowska
again. She has made some very fine recordings
reviving what you might call ‘art nouveau’
Australian piano solos as well as featuring
on Chandos’s recording of the Rawsthorne
piano concertos. Here she is the soloist
in Sculthorpe’s Piano Concerto written
in five segments in a style which the
composer tells us is in step with the
European concert tradition - I wouldn’t
set too much store by that if I were
you. This is a not a conventionally
turbulent virtuoso-heroic piece. It
is more contemplative than dramatic.
During the work’s composition three
of the composer’s close friends died
and he was involved in an extremely
serious accident. That payload of loss
is felt in the tragic oppression of
the opening and at many other times
throughout the work. At one time the
composer considered calling the concerto
Pacific. In an extended calm
section (e.g. at 9.14) the piano chants
calmly away in a mood close to the most
romantic Schumann crossed with Nyman
and with the heritage of gamelan and
gagaku synthesised into the ideas and
From Oceania is
indebted to the last part of his orchestral
work Music for Japan. The composer’s
own very helpful and lay-accessible
notes say that he treats the orchestra
here like a giant percussion instrument.
Pretty much on-song as a description.
Interesting to have but this short work
but it lacks the intriguing otherworldliness
of the later works featured on this
Kakadu is a
reference to the National Park of that
name. It was commissioned by Emanuel
Papper as a gift for his wife on her
birthday. The work reflects Sculthorpe's
affection and awe for this wilderness
territory. It operates as a twentieth
century tone poem accepting that it
would be rashly unfashionable for the
composer to have called it that. The
finale sounds like a distorted echo
of the closing pages of Bax’s Tintagel.
The piece ends in a very satisfying
way but the whole thing fails to cohere
in the ineluctable way that Memento
Mori and Earth Cry do.
Sculthorpe's psychedelic images of primeval
times, nature and infinity are well
worth your trouble. A superb and breathtakingly
inexpensive disc. Miraculously good
value at every level.
see also Sculthorpe
collection on ABC