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David FARQUHAR (b. 1928)
The Three Symphonies

Symphony No.1 (1959) [21:30]
(Moderato [8:25]; Presto [6:06]; Lento [7:00])
Symphony No.2 (1982) [28:28]
Symphony No.3 ...remembered songs... (2002) [19:04]
(Moderato energico [8:37]; Leggiero [2:50]; Alla marcia lento [3:29]; Andante tranquillo [4:08])
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra/Kenneth Young
rec. Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington, New Zealand, 28-30 January 2004
Massey University Trust Records Series
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Further Background

New Zealand composer David Farquhar was educated at universities New Zealand and at London’s Guildhall. He has been active in the promotion of music by New Zealand composers. As a composer his successes have largely been in the theatre although there are these three symphonies and four string quartets. His incidental score for Jean Anouilh’s play Ring Round the Moon (original version 1953-7, suite 1975) and the 1962 opera A Unicorn for Christmas (libretto: Ngaio Marsh) are classics. The dance-suite from Ring Round the Moon has been recorded.

The three symphonies were premiered by the orchestra that has recorded them here. The first was premiered in the Wellington Town Hall by John Hopkins. The other two symphonies were commissioned and first performed by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra; the second in 1982 under Kenneth Montgomery, and the third in 2003 under James Judd.

The Farquhar First Symphony is tough but there is a warm hint of dawn to soften the atonal chill. Some of the woodwind writing emulates Arnold and there are also some blood cooling Copland-isms. The whole has a proper symphonic gravity offset by a more louche and laid back Sibelian presto which here is not taken at anything like presto. Sibelius who is also a very strong presence in the first two Lilburn symphonies also puts in an appearance in the last movement. The 1982 Second Symphony is in three movements and reminded me of the earlier symphonies of Benjamin Frankel. This is not instantly ingratiating music and may well yield up its secrets and satisfactions only slowly. However the magical evolving and coaxing lyricism of the start of the final movement with its allusions to birdsong bodes well.

The Third Symphony is dedicated to the memory of Farquhar’s wife, the artist Raydia d’Elsa (1922-2001) whose abstract oil Colour Rhythms is reproduced on the centre pages of the booklet. The Symphony is based on material from his song-cycle, In Despite of Death, a work with which Raydia had been closely associated. The composer adds: "The symphony follows the emotional shape of the song-cycle, moving from struggle and resistance towards acceptance." It is in four movements and is the shortest of the three. The mood map tracks from Beethovenian brooding and explosions of anger (a little reminiscent of Robert Simpson) to haunted cool Sibelian piping, to a brief, gauntly desolate march to a melancholic yet fulfillingly slow Mahlerian cortege. Subdued but not defeated acceptance vibrates through these glowingly calming final pages. This is a wonderful symphony that grows on you with every hearing.

Three atmospheric symphonies to set alongside and in contrast to those by that other New Zealand symphonist, Douglas Lilburn. The Third is a striking, moving and instantly commanding work. All three, while being personal and distinctive, should appeal to the same constituency as the Rawsthorne and Frankel symphonies.


Rob Barnett

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