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Graeme KOEHNE (b. 1956)
Elevator Music (1997) [8:03]
Inflight Entertainment (1999)a [28:40]
Unchained Melody (1990) [10:16]
Powerhouse (1993) [10:59]
Diana Doherty (oboe)a
Sydney Symphony/Takuo Yuasa
Recorded: Sydney Town Hall, January 2001
NAXOS 8.555847 [57:59]


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Graeme Koehne admits the influence of several film composers, such as Raymond Scott, Henry Mancini and John Barry, on his own music-making. Though this may be true to a certain extent, this should not imply that Koehne considers himself as a “musical illustrator”. However this nevertheless gives a fairly indication of what Koehne is aiming at. His music is often tuneful, colourful, expertly scored and directly expressive, without any attempt at plumbing any great depth. This is music to entertain and to be enjoyed for all it’s worth. True, it may sometimes sound eclectic, but in much the same way as that of Leonard Bernstein; another name that comes to mind when listening to these pieces, and one that he does not mention as another possible model. The music, too, is often set in movement and sustained by powerful rhythmic ostinati, that might sound as a bit too single-minded, at least for some tastes.

Unchained Melody, Powerhouse and Elevator Music form a trilogy sorts, in an overtly popular idiom of great appeal. The title of Unchained Melody is taken “from an old, and at the time relatively obscure, 1950s pop song”, actually composed by none other than Alex North. This boisterous song-and-dance movement sometimes brought to mind another composer whom I much admire:. the late Elmer Bernstein. Powerhouse is a brilliant Scherzo in much the same vein. Elevator Music, a sort of urban Toccata that often made me think of Leonard Bernstein (that of, say, West Side Story) and other American composers such as John Adams or Michael Daugherty. This work is – so the composer tells us – based on a twelve-tone row, “which introduces a possibility [I] wish Schoenberg had thought of – one day playing tennis with Gershwin, perhaps”. In fact, the three parts of the trilogy almost sound as variations on the same basic material.

In the oboe concerto Inflight Entertainment, Koehne “has taken the oboe away from [its] traditional scenery into some landscapes in which the instrument might seem strange and alien”. The first movement opens with a recitative, at first pastoral in mood, but quickly getting more animated, and leading into the main movement, which might have been titled “A Shepherd in Sydney”, or something of the kind. The second movement is mostly song-like in character, almost an operatic aria and one displaying Koehne’s seemingly inexhaustible melodic fund to the full. The piece is rounded-off by a lively, dance-like Rondo. A very attractive piece displaying impeccable oboe playing by Diana Doherty.

Allow me to quote the composer again: “In the oboe concerto, I am aiming to bring the kind of imaginative excitement I got from music I hear in the cinema ...” These words also perfectly sum up what is to be heard in the other pieces recorded here. No earth-shaking masterpieces; but four beautifully crafted, attractive and unpretentious works by a composer who obviously knows how to handle orchestral forces to great effect. Very fine performances and recording all round. A quite enjoyable release.

 Hubert Culot


Koehne: music that is often tuneful, colourful, expertly scored and directly expressive, without any attempt at plumbing any great depth ... see Full Review

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