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Peter SCULTHORPE (b.1929)
Earth Cry [11.06]
Mangrove [15.05]
Songs of Sea and Sky [16.04]
Kakadu [16.14]
From Ubirr [12.10]
William Barton (didgeridoo)
Queensland Orchestra/Michael Christie
rec. 18-20 September in Studio 420, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Brisbane
ABC CLASSICS 476 192-1 [71.21]


It would do this music an injustice to liken it to film music, yet it has the overtones of film music in its unrelenting dramaticism, its epic heroics and its grandiose nobility ... not to mention its melodic tunefulness!

The first work, Earth Cry, is - as it claims – the cry of the earth, an angry, bitter, wounded cry. The second piece, Mangrove, composed seven years earlier, portrays not so much an actual mangrove tree in music, but the history, the atmosphere and settings of mangrove trees from time immemorial. The Songs of the Sea and Sky – six wordless, voice-less songs in one continuous movement - were originally written for clarinet and piano, and are here arranged for didgeridoo and orchestra. We hear demanding virtuosic playing of Olympic proportions from William Barton, the outstanding didgeridoo player. Kakadu opens with the earth displaying its tremendous power and force again – this time exultant. In the slower, middle part of the work’s three sections, a sinuous cor anglais laments, wailing over the didgeridoo grumbling and croaking below, with angry shooting strings and frantic ritualistic drums, before the work returns to the manic joy of its opening. The final work on the disc is From Ubirr, portraying the rocky outcrop of that name in Kakadu National Park, and its rock paintings.

This is a composer with something to say, and a voice to say it with. As one listens one increasingly notices similarities in the sound-world to Tavener, yet the music remaining thoroughly original and idiosyncratic – and never same-y. Sculthorpe combines heart-aching melancholy with jubilant exhilaration – gorgeously lyrical melodies or jaunty dance-rhythms contrast with the booming echoes of the didgeridoo and with strings often shrieking out, or darting beneath. An emotion that is often roused by this music is fear - fear of the unknown, of primitive forces beyond our control. Sculthorpe summons up paeans of rage and grief for a diminishing people and the agonised cries, the primitive voices of the land breaking out of the rocks and bushes and wailing aloud to the sky. He portrays vast open vistas, mysterious, enigmatic landscapes, and primaeval fetid swamps, with music that is at once ritualistic and ancient, and refreshingly individual. These are noises that one has never heard before but that are unaccountably familiar as if from one’s dreams of a previous existence. This is desperately emotional and deeply moving music - music that cries aloud to one’s soul - and one of the most revelatory and frankly astonishing CDs I’ve encountered.

Recommended to anyone who wants to be struck with awe, fear, or wonder at the smallness of man and greatness of nature!

Em Marshall


You can find more Sculthorpe on ABC

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