The Australian Composer Series has embraced
new recordings, the very occasional import from another label
and reissues. This Don Kay release falls into the last category.
It was recorded by Kay’s island state orchestra in Hobart in
1992. And it fits very soundly into the wide-ranging brief that
constitutes this series.
Kay studied first
in Melbourne, and then in London (1959-64) with Malcolm Williamson.
Returning home he taught at the University of Tasmania rising
to the position of Dean of the Faculty of Music – a position
from which he retired in 1998.
There are two big
works here, both rooted in the soil and the sea and in the myth
and history of the island. The Tasmania Symphony – The Legend
of Moinee is a five-movement work lasting forty minutes.
It’s effectively a symphony with cello though not a cello symphony.
The solo instrument represents the Aboriginal Moinee, thrown
down to the land from heaven, with the orchestra taking on a
variety of roles. Thus they are involved in some terse and tense
hunting motifs as well as more quietly reflective music. The
slow cello lament – perhaps representing Moinee’s capture –
is reflective and keen. Some of Kay’s writing may remind one
of Vaughan Williams and Hovhaness, and especially so in the
second movement, Love Voice of the Moinee. But Kay summons
up some rough-hewn colours for Creating the Land – plenty
of toil and cello sawing and the smell of churning soil. The
heart of the Symphony is Land of Moinee
which has drum rolls, sinuous ostinati, bells, chattering birds
– Ravel-cum-Messiaen perhaps – plenty of solo voicings and burgeoning
life force. The Postlude again evokes VW-Hovhaness modal nobility
and the final wispy ascent of the spirit is a fine touch with
which to end.
There is an Island
is a lighter work written in 1977. It’s a cantata for children’s
choir and orchestra to a text by the English-born but Tasmanian-settled
poet Clive Sansom (1910-1981). In nine movements it charts the
story of the Tasmanian Aboriginals and the early settlers. Whether
declaimed or sung this is an eminently workable piece, excellently
realised. There are quotations of national anthems (French)
and flag wavers (Rule! Britannia), roistering ballads,
and folk songs such as Over The Hills and Far Away and
She Moved Thro’ The Fair. They speak of the ravages of
nostalgia and separation, war, and of the challenges of a new
land, and end with hope for reconciliation and for the future.
Kay uses simple – but not simplistic – means to depict battles
and the whoop of nauticalia. Touches of Grainger maybe from
time to time.
This is a welcome
reissue under the series rubric. Kay’s clear voice celebrates
Tasmania in song with undimmed warmth and honesty.
also previous review of this recording of the Tasmania Symphony