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Life is Beautiful
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759) Arrival of the Queen of Sheba (Solomon) [3.02] (1)
Erik SATIE (1866-1925) Gymnopédie No. 1 [3.06] (2)
Léo DÉLIBES (1836-1891) Sous le dome épais (Flower Duet) (Lakmé) [5.12] (3)
Gareth KOCH (b. 1962) Rumba Flamenca [3.31] (4)
Jules MASSENET (1842-1912) Méditation (Thais) [5.33] (5)
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943) Virgin, Mother of God (All Night Vigil - Vespers) [2.46] (6)
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904) Allegretto grazioso (Symphony No. 8) [5.04] (7)
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) Allegro (Brandenburg Concerto No. 2) [4.55] (8)
Pietro MASCAGNI (1863-1945) Intermezzo (Caveleria Rusticana) [3.00] (9)
Gregorio ALLEGRI (1582-1652) Miserere excerpt [7.42] (10)
Johann PACHELBEL (1653-1706) Canon in D [4.29] (11)
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741) Gloria in excelsis Deo (Gloria) [2.17] (12)
Bela BARTÓK (1881– 1945) arranged Andrea KELLER No. 126 Change of Time (Mikrokosmos) [5.23] (13)
Ross EDWARDS (b. 1943) Dawn Mantras [7.14] (14)
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827) An die Freude, excerpt from Final movement (Symphony No. 9) [8.41] (15)
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953) Montagues and Capulets (Romeo and Juliet) [3.54] (16)
Giulio CACCINI (1551-1618) arranged Daniel WALKER Ave Maria [3.22] (17)
Glenys Fowles (soprano) (3)
Jane Sheldon (soprano) (10, 14)
Heather Begg (mezzo-soprano) (3)
Barbara Jane Gilby (violin) (5)
Tom O’Dwyer (alto saxophone) (13)
Anita Husser (double bass) (13)
Lyle Chan (piano) (2)
Andrea Keller (piano) (13)
Matthew Doyle (didjeridu) (14)
Jim Franklin (shakuhachi) (14)
Rixon Thomas (cor anglais) (14)
Ian Cleworth (percussion) (14)
Brian Nixon (percussion) (14)
Danny Fischer (drums) (13)
Saffire – The Australian Guitar Quartet (4)
Sydney Philharmonic Symphonic Choir/Antony Walker (6)
Cantillation/Antony Walker (10)
Cantillation/Lyn Williams (14)
Sydney Children’s Choir (14)
Sydney Philharmonic Choirs and Orchestra/Antony Walker (15)
Gondwana Voices (17)
Australian Brandenburg Orchestra/Paul Dyer (1)
Melbourne Symphony Orchestra/Richard Bonynge (3)
Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra/David Stanhope (5, 11)
Sydney Symphony Orchestra/Jose Serebrier (7)
Sydney Symphony Orchestra/Christopher Nicholls (16)
Orchestra of the Antipodes/Antony Walker (8)
Western Australian Symphony Orchestra/David Measham (9)
Sydney Philharmonic Motet Choir and Orchestra/Antony Walker (12)
Sinfonia Australis/Lyn Williams (17)
Compiled 2005 from a variety of ABC recordings
ABC CLASSICS 476 7492 [79.53]

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All record companies like leveraging their product by creating themed compilations. Some seem to be just cynical exercises but others are well put together, with the intention of tempting the inexperienced into trying out a variety of classical music and providing the experienced listener with the possibility of the hearing new artists and performances. This compilation from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) is in the latter category and will be of interest to many as it provides a showcase for a wide variety of fine Australian artists. Also, I could not help liking a disc whose booklet contains an ad for the ABC Classic FM radio station with the headline ‘Ironing is wonderful with ABC Classic FM’.

The disc opens with a crisp, bouncy modern instrument performance of The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba from Handel’s Solomon. But after a promising opening, the performance starts to feel a little too hard-driven and could have done with relaxing a bit. This is followed by a highly relaxed and poised account of Satie’s Gymnopédie No. 1 from pianist and ABC supremo Lyle Chan.

The Flower Duet from Lakmé is conducted by Richard Bonynge, who is an old hand with this having recorded the complete opera with his wife, Joan Sutherland. On this recording he is joined by soprano, Glenys Fowles, and mezzo-soprano, Heather Begg. The two singers blend beautifully but Fowles seems a little reticent and Begg’s fruity mezzo tends to be to the fore a little. Neither singer makes much of the French text, which is a shame. So that, though this is a creditably pleasant account of the duet, it lacks that ultimate tingle factor.

The following item, though, is certainly one that stands out; a performance of Rumba Flamenca by Saffire, the Australian Guitar Quartet. With its fresh intoxicating rhythms and fine guitar playing, this track should attract a larger following for this talented group.

The Méditation from Massenet’s Thais has become a staple in this sort of easy listening compilation. The movement, Virgin, Mother of God from Rachmaninov’s Vespers receives a shapely, if light-toned performance from the Sydney Philharmonic Choir. Though lacking in the dark tones and deep resonance that Slav choirs bring to this work, they made me want to hear more of their account.

Another performance which makes me interested to explore further is the Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s delightfully dancing Allegretto Grazioso from Dvořák’s 8th Symphony.

The Orchestra of the Antipodes is a group which plays on original instruments. Here the play the Allegro from Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 2. With its high trumpet part, this is one of the pieces where balance is notoriously difficult to achieve. Antony Walker and his group do very well, with the unnamed trumpet player achieving some minor miracles. The other instrumental playing is of a high order as well though the recorder seemed a little too reticent in the ensemble passages. The overall feel was of a crisp, rather brisk account of the movement and I would be interested to hear more from them in this work.

The Western Australian Symphony Orchestra give a creditable account of the Intermezzo from Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana. And they are followed by another familiar, but highly contrasting work: Allegri’s Miserere. It is given in the 20th century version which has now become traditional even if it is not a correct version of the work. Jane Sheldon, the only named soloist, is the capable soprano soloist with a strong top C, though her tone becomes a little steely at the very top. She is well supported by the flexible sound of the choir Cantillation, directed by Antony Walker (a very busy man, he appears on no fewer than five of the tracks on this disc).

Pachelbel’s Canon in D, receives a rather well-upholstered performance from the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra. In complete contrast, the live recording of the Sydney Philharmonic Motet Choir and Orchestra (conducted by Antony Walker) shows them giving a fine, crisp account of the Gloria in Excelsis from Vivaldi’s Gloria. Both choir and orchestra bring plenty of bounce to this big-boned account of the work.

For the next track it is best to forget Bartók entirely. A jazz version of a movement from his piano teaching work, Mikrokosmos, it works best if taken as simply an atmospheric jazz piece.

It was enterprising of ABC to include a piece of contemporary music on the disc. Ross Edwards’s Dawn Mantras was written for performance outside the Sydney Opera House on the first day of 2000. It rather recycles the recent clichés of chanting voices, low drones and soulful wind instruments, but does so in a very affecting way, including a rather effective didjeridu in the instrumentation.

The excerpt from Beethoven’s 9th Symphony is for easy listening enthusiasts only. Not because of the performance; what there is of it sounds very promising. But the editors have chosen to include just a bleeding chunk of the final movement, not even starting at the beginning of the vocal/choral part of the work.

The Sydney Symphony Orchestra under Christopher Nicholls bring the requisite amount of swagger to the Montagues and Capulets movement from Romeo and Juliet. The disc closes with a pleasant arrangement of Caccini’s Ave Maria; one of those pieces that keeps cropping up in arrangements but which I’ve never heard in its original version.

The booklet includes a brief paragraph about each work which provides sufficient helpful information to aid the curious in exploring further; unfortunately ABC fail to give details of recording date and the provenance of any of the records, so making it difficult to hear more of those artists that impress.

This is a disc which, with its fine array of Australian artists, should be of wide interest, enabling us to hear many artists who are underplayed in Europe.

Robert Hugill

Robert Hugill's blog

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