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Morrison Music Trust

Gareth FARR (b.1968)
Ruaumoko (1997) [27.36]
Orakua (1999) [13.28] +
Rangitoto (1999) [6.00]
Te Papa (1996) [9.52]
Beowulf (2000) [9.50]
Conal Coad (bass) +
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra/Kenneth Young
rec. Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington, May 2003, Metropolitan Cathedral of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Wellington, November 2003 and Sounds Unlimited Studio, Wellington, August 2003 and April 2004

Gareth Farr was born in Wellington (New Zealand) in 1968. There’s a black and white photograph of him in the booklet in white wing collared shirt and tails (but no white tie) looking not unlike the resurgent techno pop star and amateur aviator Gary Numan – with the exception that Farr seems to be wearing white, possibly surgical - assuredly not kid - gloves. Leaving aside things sartorial Farr is a graduate of composition and percussion in Auckland, who later counted Samuel Adler and Christopher Rouse as teachers at Eastman in Rochester, New York. He was taken early by the sound of the gamelan and after becoming composer-in-residence with Chamber Music New Zealand he has had an active freelance career.

The major work here is Ruaumoko written in 1997, which follows the seasons’s cycle in the shape of Ruaumoko, God of Earthquakes. Each movement corresponds to a season. Given Farr’s immersion in the world of Pacific Rim percussion one expects the gamelan sonorities, the gongs but there’s also some romantic tracery here as well alongside the ominous drum rolls that portend the Earthquake’s eruption, and are separately tracked. I was especially taken by Spring, whose motionless calm - high flutes, low brass – pays court to minimalism but rather more to the buzz of nature. Summer is full of brassy energy, some Stravinsky influence and a filmic blaze of triumph.

Orakua is a setting of a poem by Leon Coad and is sung by his son, Conal, depicting a battle between Maori and the white settlers ("Their deathless pride of race we did not rout") and which ends in lines of Maori. It was written in 1941 or 1942 – the notes can’t quite decide - during another war in which "Our hand grenades and Enfield’s ceaseless fire" had another context. A steady bass line and wind arabesques lead to outbursts or eerie calm. Rangitoto was part of the Millennium celebrations and depicts an eruption of the island of that name. It’s very loud, deliberately so. Apparently a concertgoer told Farr it was the loudest piece he’d ever heard from a symphony orchestra - but then he probably hadn’t heard Solti and the Chicago brass murder Bruckner. There’s some La Valse here, a certain Chinoiserie, percussion and whoops.

Te Papa is effusive and optimistic and features male and female voices singing a rather naïf poem by Bill Maguire, half of which is in Maori, a translation one assumes of the English. Tom toms make their mark here as does a colouristic and once more filmic sense – this was the music that opened the new Museum of New Zealand. The roars and sword clashes of Beowulf are exciting and characterful as is the melee that precedes them. I don’t know if Farr has received any film music commissions but he seems a natural.

The Morrison Music Trust seems to be going great guns, as it were, in promoting native music in New Zealand – this is the first of three I have to review. The booklets are eye-catching and worth reading and the performances are assured.

Jonathan Woolf

see also reviews of three other releases



Morrison & Co Music Trust
PO Box 135
New Zealand


Russell Armitage Management
PO Box 320
New Zealand
fax +64 7 853 6504
phone +64 7 853 6503

all Gareth Farr's works are available from

Promethean Editions
PO Box 7348
Wellington South 6039 NZ
phone +64 4 473 5033
fax +64 4 473 5066
www. promethean-editions.co.nz




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