Peter SCULTHORPE (b. 1929)
Sun Music: I (1965) [10:50]; II (1969) [5:00]; III (1967) [11:57]; IV (1967) [8:31]
Irkanda IV (1961) [11:18]
Piano Concerto (1983) [22:15]
Small Town for solo oboe, two trumpets, timpani and strings (1976) [6:07]
Anthony Fogg (piano); Leonard Dommett violin (Small Town)
Melbourne Symphony Orchestra/John Hopkins; Myer Fredman (concerto)
rec. no dates or locations given. ADD?
ABC CLASSICS 476 4235 [76:02]
ABC’s Discovery series offers access to music at bargain price. This should open receptive ears to these iconic works from one of Australia’s foremost composers. All but the Piano Concerto appear to have been transferred from 1970s LPs - there is a discrete rustle of aural evidence to be heard especially in the Sun Music and Small Town works. A sampling from the second and digital generation of Sculthorpe orchestral music is on the same label at full price (review). There’s also a fine Naxos collection which overlaps only as to the Piano Concerto (review)
The Sun Music series is included on the present disc in its entirety. Each piece is concise - bringing out the quintessence of the inspiration. The style naturally and brilliantly partakes of the avant-garde manners of the 1960s. The music is statuesque rather than melodic. Impressions haze and images shimmer and melt in the unrelenting heat. Percussion tap, scrape and rattle, violins screech in intensity or mysteriously flicker and flame as if recalling Kashchei’s garden, brass choirs strike attitudes and the strings ululate in Pendereckian screes and slides. There’s a lot of this - and to good effect - in Sun Music IV which ultimately fades in a warm mirage of strings. For much of the time a grim satisfaction is taken in the sheer unforgiving pressure of the sun eternally beating down. Sun Music III finds melodic balm in gamelan.
Irkanda IV is the last of four works of that name written between 1955 and 1961. Irkanda means remote and lonely place. Use is made of aborigine themes and chants. This piece reflects the composer’s feelings upon the death of his father. The unremitting steel of the Sun Music series is absent though the writing remains tightly focused and concentrated. Nothing extraneous is admitted. The music is contemplative, possessed and often gloomy though with some tenderness from the orchestral violins and Leonard Dommett’s solo. Dommett’s name may well be recalled as the conductor of Malcolm Williamson’s Piano Concerto No. 3 on Lyrita.
Sculthorpe’s own Piano Concerto is in a single movement comprising eight episodes: Grave - Animato - Grave - Calmo - Animato - Risoluto - Come notturno (cadenza) - Estatico. The first section is threaded through with cataclysm and nobility in enigmatic equipoise. Thoughtful interludes on occasion sound like an extension of the doomed elegies of Franz Schmidt in his Fourth Symphony but the predominance is taken by a blend of idyll, elegy, Nyman-chiming piano figuration and gamelan. At times one might think that we have moved into the territory of Nights in the Gardens of Australia. Delightful.
Small Town is the most accessible piece here. It is Sculthorpe’s irresistibly affectionate take on that nostalgic image. No harm if we occasionally drift into Barber’s Knoxville and de Falla’s El Amor Brujo.
The useful notes - in English only - are by Martin Buzacott.
So there you have it: a very fine sampling of what I suspect are first recordings of works that range from alluring avant-garde to irresistibly affectionate nostalgia. There is competition but nothing in this price bracket or at least nothing that offers the Sun Music series.  

Rob Barnett 

From alluring avant-garde to irresistibly affectionate nostalgia.