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John CARMICHAEL (b.1930)
Piano Quartet Sea Changes [18.40]
Fantasy Sonata for flute and piano [16.09]
Aria and Finale for soprano saxophone and piano [15.49]
Fêtes Champêtres Suite for clarinet and piano [8.48]
A Little Night Music for flute and piano [9.50]
Antony Gray (piano) (Sea Changes); Belinda Macfarlane (violin); Morgan Goff (viola); Matthew Lee (cello); Roger Armstrong (flute); John Carmichael (piano) (flute works and Fêtes); Kyle Horch (sax); Pamela Lidiard (piano) (Aria and finale); Marc Naylor (clarinet)
rec. St John's Smith Square, London, 30 Oct 1990, 21 Dec 1999, 19, 23 Jan 2001. DDD
ABC CLASSICS 476 156-1 [69.16]

 

The Australian composer, John Carmichael was a pupil of Dorian Le Gallienne (let's have a disc of his music as well, please) and later in London with Arthur Benjamin. He also studied with Anthony Milner (whose First Symphony and Variations are on the Claudio label). Carmichael now lives in the UK. He came of the generation that resolved to return to melody. This is very evident from the chamber works performed with such technical excellence and joy here.

The Piano Quartet Sea Changes has the tumbling torrentially exultant quality of works such as the chamber music of César Franck, Max d'Ollonne and Herbert Howells. This is essentially optimistic music though rooted in an apprehension that not all that surrounds us is blissfully happy. Gloriously exuberant stuff. If you at all like the Howells' 1915 Piano Quartet or the First Piano Quartet of Gabriel Fauré do chase down a copy of this disc. The title reflects the composer's attempt to capture the essence of the magical transforming play of cloud, wind and light on the ever-changing seascapes to be seen from the Atlantic cliffs.

The three movement Fantasy Sonata for flute and piano is a sun-dappled and playful work with some kinship with the more Elysian sections of the Nielsen Flute Concerto and, in the finale, with Poulenc and Gershwin. There is some delectable writing in the Lento which is a close cousin to the Khachaturian Phrygia Adagio from Spartacus. Poulenc, Ibert and Françaix are the names I think of when hearing A Little Night Music (a miniature suite for flute and piano). Perhaps, however, Carmichael was remembering Arthur Benjamin when he wrote the first movement (Caribbean Moonrise) with its rumba undertow.

The Aria and Finale are respectively a sultry night scene with a Spanish twist and a Gallic serenade - both very smooth and heartfelt. A slight gripe is the guillotining of the last piano note of the Aria at 6.48. The Fêtes Champêtres is smoothly flowing, scattily playful yet rocking delightfully (especially in the central berceuse).

Carmichael appeals directly to the emotions. He is often light on the aural palate as with the Aria and Finale and the Fêtes Champêtres but just as often striking at a more profound level as in Sea Changes.

If you would like to hear more (and I suspect that after hearing this disc you will!) then try his Trumpet Concerto and the Piano Concerto Concierto Folklorico both of which are on a double CD  anthology of Australian 'light music' also reviewed here (Swagman's Promenade: Australian Light Classics for Orchestra. ABC CLASSICS 442 374-2 2CDs [71.51+72.05]).

Few composition dates are given but it seems that these works were written in the period from the mid-1980s until 2000.

There is not a single work here that presents any obstacles to appreciation. Carmichael is evidently completely serious in his pursuit of the crusade of discovery in melody. If you have ever been put off modern classical music let Carmichael's blissfully accessible and often sheerly beautiful music restore your confidence.

Rob Barnett



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