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Douglas LILBURN (1915-2001)
Orchestral Works
Aotearoa – Overture (1940) [8:09]
A Birthday Offering (1956) [11:38]
Drysdale Overture (1937, rev. 1986) [10:34]
Forest (Tone Poem) (1936) [15:54]
A Song of the Islands (Tone Poem) (1946) [16:40]
Festival Overture (1939) [8:20]
Processional Fanfare (1961, rev. 1985) [4:01]
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra/James Judd
rec. Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington, 9-11 November 2004. DDD
NAXOS 8.557697 [75:15]


 

Douglas Lilburn grew up on a farm on the North Island of New Zealand. In the late 1930s and early 1940s he studied at the Royal College of Music in London, where he was taught by Vaughan Williams. There may be a detectable debt to RVW in these orchestral works but the influence of Sibelius is much more pervasive. The disc opens with Aotearoa which translates as Land of the long white cloud and perhaps could have been called New Zealandia. My intention is not to disparage the composer but merely to suggest that, in this work in particular, and to some extent in every work on the disc save the last, listeners could be forgiven for thinking they had stumbled across some previously unknown Sibelius. In one place, starting just under two minutes into Forest, Lilburn actually seems to quote the slow movement of the Finnish master’s Fifth Symphony in the bass although Robert Hoskins suggests in the booklet that this was merely “tracking”. Forest was, in any case, the earliest of the works recorded here. The Drysdale Overture of the following year and then Aotearoa show considerable advances in originality and in handling of the orchestra. The programme of the overture relates to the remote location in which Lilburn spent his formative years and the music captures a faraway spirit. In between these two works comes A Birthday Offering – a substantial present for the orchestra playing on this disc when it celebrated its tenth birthday. The opening material draws from Copland but its treatment is highly original. At the end Lilburn alludes to Happy Birthday in quite a clever way and then ends the work without ceremony. A Song of the Islands is undoubtedly the masterpiece here – an atmospheric and deeply felt tone-poem inspired by art from the South Island. The Festival Overture is worth an airing and the concluding Processional Fanfare is well-crafted but, unsurprisingly, does not reach great heights of inspiration.

Overall, this is an excellent programme which those who enjoyed the previous Lilburn release from Naxos of the three symphonies (see review) will surely want to explore. They are unlikely to be disappointed with the music and nor should anyone who likes their Sibelius. The playing of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra is committed and refined, and James Judd does an excellent job of ensuring structural cohesion in the larger works. Fine recorded sound and good notes complete a highly desirable issue.

Patrick C Waller  

and another perspective from Rob Barnett:

For some reason I cannot fully fathom I mentally bracket the New Zealander Douglas Lilburn with the American Randall Thompson. Both wrote three symphonies and with the exception of Lilburn’s Third all are of an open-air tonal character alive with melody and rhythmic fibre. In fact the Second Symphonies of both composers represent their finest orchestral work. It's a pity that while Leonard Bernstein did record Randall Thompson 2 he never discovered Lilburn 2 despite its undeniable attractions.

You can get some but not all of the present pieces by buying various Kiwi-Pacific and Continuum CDs at full price; they are reviewed on this site. However there is no need for that as these are good versions and well recorded. Drysdale excitingly celebrates the composer's childhood on a remote sheep station. It buzzes with echoes of Sibelius’s Sixth and Third Symphonies as well as pastoral Copland - Outdoor Overture, The Tender Land and Appalachian Spring. The writing is lithe, cool and lean exactly as it is with the Aotearoa Overture - his most famous piece alongside the Second Symphony. The title means Land of the Long White Cloud - the Maori name for New Zealand. A Birthday Offering is a later piece and is less accessible though there’s not much in it. It develops into something of a rowdy New Zealand hoe-down.  Forest is a work of the composer's apprentice years and here receives its recording premiere. We already knew that Lilburn was much influenced by Sibelius in the 1930s. This is further evidence. It even begins with a rolling Tapiola-like 'explosion'. This is highly attractive writing but even the ostinato is pure Sibelius. It was written as an entry in a competition organised by Percy Grainger for music to express the essence of New Zealand. Horn-calls echo out above a bristling Tapiola-like gale. This relents at 11.06 sounding for a moment closer to one of Stokowski's Bach transcriptions. This is soon shaken off and we return to music that recalls the early tone poems of Howard Hanson - another Sibelius captive. A Song of Islands is the longest piece here. This is a confident work with a serene and firmly-rooted melody that positively gleams with confidence (4:21). It too bristles with Aotearoa-like figures and quick explosive climaxes come and go like summer storms.  Inspiration becomes thin towards the end but overall this is an engaging dewy-eyed work to add to the stock of Copland, Moeran, Butterworth and Thompson. The Festival Overture at first owes not a little to the Walton Symphony No. 1 - another work notably influenced by Sibelius. However this is an ebullient little number with plenty of vitality and freshness. Towards its close we get an almost-quote from the Tallis Fantasia by Lilburn's teacher Vaughan Williams. It was premiered in London under the baton of Sir George Dyson. The Processional Fanfare has all the expected pomp and occasion yet its fanfares are typically Lilburn contoured with that defiance and energy we know from Aotearoa here melded with a Purcellian grandeur.

There are good strong liner notes by Robert Hoskins.

A sound and well thought-through collection of Lilburn's attractive music. Not to be missed if you have already encountered the symphonies or you warm to the other composers I have mentioned.

Rob Barnett 

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