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Carl VINE (b. 1954)

Symphony No. 1 MicroSymphony (1986) [10:44]
Symphony No. 2 (1988) [19:07]
Symphony No. 3 (1990) [25:54]
Celebrare Celeberrime (1993) [5:07]

Symphony No. 4.2 (1993 rev. 1998) [19:15]
Symphony No. 5 Percussion (1995) [24:56]
Symphony No. 6 Choral (1996) [28:49]
Sydney Philharmonia Motet Choir (6)
Synergy (5)
Sydney Symphony Orchestra/Stuart Challender (1-3); Edo de Waart (Celebrare 4-6)
rec. Sydney Town Hall, May, July, Sept 1990 (1-3); July 1996 (5); March 1997 (Celebrare); Concert Hall of Sydney Opera House, 17-19 March 1998 (4.2 6).
Originally from ABC Classics 8.77000 5 and 456 698-2.
ABC CLASSICS 476 7179 [61:25 + 73:22]
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Carl Vine website

This is a compelling set presenting six Australian symphonies from the last two decades. It's very much a case of the story so far. We can surely expect more from Vine - a composer now 52.

The ten minute Microsymphony, might from its title, be expected to be a lightweight job. It isn't. It is instead a strong-willed symphonic movement. There are the anticipated resonances with other works and composers: Vaughan Williams' Fourth, the violence of Malcolm Arnold's Symphonies 4 and 6 and perhaps a dash of the propulsive American symphonism of the 1940s and 1950s. Everything is resolutely tonal, chiming and sometimes lithe in the manner of Copland (8:03). At others these pages surge with New Age energy recalling Nyman and Glass but with so much more going on. The ending is in repose not in energy. The symphony is played by the same forces who gave the premiere.

The Second and Third Symphonies are also single movement constructs.

The Second Symphony was premiered by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra conducted by Hiroyuki Iwaki in April 1988. Much of the first part is suggestive of the music of Prospero's Island: Ravelian, a gentle web-like benison. Things change at 4:20 where an aggressive hammered beat disrupts the idyll. Soon we return to the luminous dream but this too gradually bows out in face of a wave of triumphant energy (6:46 and 10:20). This smacks of the grandiloquence of Schuman and Harris (17:50). Like the Microsymphony this work happily migrates between chamber micro-world and the epic-scale ebullience and violence of a diorama.

The Third Symphony, like the first, was premiered by the late Stuart Challender and the Sydney Symphony. It is the longest single continuous structure in the set. The initial brooding and intimations of darkness with prophetic voices from the brass recall the gloomier moments in Bax's Fifth Symphony. Here that voice is blended with the Bartók of the Concerto for Orchestra. A heavy marching tread, infinitely weighty, can be heard at 6:15 but this is soon atomised and disappears into a pensive flute-led song at 7:03. That tread enjoys a climactic epiphany of sunny confidence at 10:12 only to dissipate again - turning away into reflection. Once again pastoral woodwind solos are crucial, here joined by solo violin at 18:01. A gale of folklike electricity rushes through the pages at 21:07 but again there is a deflection into an idyll of bubbling springs and the tintinnabulation of birdsong (23:46 onwards). This builds to a Beethovenian triumph of the skies and a magnificently discordant brass fanfare. Very impressive!

As remission from the symphonies comes Celebrare Celeberrime - a short piece written for Isaiah Jackson who had conducted the Vine Third Symphony on his tour of Australia in 1991. It's a flighty fast explosion of energy, spurred by tom-toms, brass expostulation and a stomped out conflagration worthy of one of Panufnik's aggressive symphonic movements. It was premiered by the Ohio Dayton Philharmonic conducted by Jackson.

On CD2 we get Symphony 4.2. The reference to 4.2 does not make a link with Don Gillis's Symphony No 5½. It reflects - as it might with a new software release - that the Symphony was revised and that this is version 4.2 i.e. the first revision. The original version must be 4.1. The impression left by the work is episodic proceeding by way of parataxis. The episodes vary from the dark subways of William Schuman's string anthems to generously lyrical songs as if from marine depths. The lyrical aspect returns at the end with a sweetly singing solo violin wresting beauty from foreboding. This smiling pastoralism has learnt a thing or two from Finzi's Introit.

The Fifth Symphony is for orchestra joined by a sizeable percussion ensemble - hence the title. After an angst-ridden introduction a peaceful interlude enters with breathing strings. This gives place to a Bernstein-like scherzo ‘blast’ from 2:12 onwards. This is syncopated, exciting stuff with the percussionists acting as goaders and hortators pour fuel on a conflagration of propulsion. Strangely enough the writing sounds Iberian from time to time (3:40). We then (8:40) reach a peaceable kingdom where the vibraphone and marimba chime in plangent entreaty. At 14:02 this gives way to nightmare interjections by the brass. The second part of the Symphony pitches in with rude and good-humoured rhythmic life. While the dashing pay-off seems to me a less than convincing denouement it certainly makes for a breathtaking close.

The Choral Symphony is in five sections: 1. Introduction; 2. Enuma Elish (When on high); 3. Eis Gen Metera Panton (To the Earth, Mother of All); 4. Eis Selenen (To the Moon); 5. Eis Helion (To the Sun). This is an even better work blending processional (as, for example, in the wonderful Paul Paray Mass as recorded by both Mercury and Grotto Productions) with some extremely impressive apocalyptic storms. Dynamic bongo ‘rushes’ and Orffian choruses punctuate the work. Emphatically punched-out massed strings and a half-Gallic spirituality, touching on Fauré and Rutter, leave the enduring impression of a paregoric for tragedy.

These recordings have all been issued before but happy the music-lover who buys this set. Not only is the price attractive but the coupling makes eminent sense and the music has a real compulsion, a fixity of purpose and a very personal sense of fantasy.

Rob Barnett

Comment received:

I can't now recall the liner notes with the CD, but you might like to amend a couple of items. Symphonies 1 and 4 were both commissioned and premiered by the Sydney Youth Orchestra, not the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Which is a bit confusing since Stuart Challender was resident conductor of the SYO for MicroSymphony, but was resident with the SSO by the time Symphony No 2 (and 3) came about. Symphony
4.2 does indeed follow the numbering protocol of software revisions, in which "x.1" generally denotes a "bug-fix", while "x.2" is often the first full-scale reworking. As is the case in 4.2! (Version 4.1 was simply called "4" after the premiere, but contained all of the
basic corrections usually effected after performance by real musicians).

You might also care to re-phrase the paragraph on the Fifth Symphony, which isn't altogether clear on the use of the subtitle of the work - "Percussion". In fact, I generally refer to the titular works by title rather than number ("Percussion Symphony [no 5]") but music program style guides, and my publisher, seem to disagree.

With many thanks,

Carl Vine



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