The more I read about Douglas Lilburn the more fascinating the character that emerges. He would definitely be the sort of person I would have loved to have met.
Just think, this is a man who as a boy sat his university entrance exam a year early. Instead of writing an essay on an imperial theme as directed he submitted a piano sonata, Op.1
. This was at his hated boarding school in New Zealand. A man with an unconventional view of the world he will have perfectly appreciated the advice given him by his teacher in London, Ralph Vaughan Williams. He told him 'cut out all the bits you like best’ interpreting this as meaning 'don't be clever, don't be silly, don't try to impress - search for what is valid in your intuition, your understanding, and go from that'. Taking Vaughan Williams’ advice and marrying it with Stravinsky’s dictum ‘the greater the limitations, the greater the art’ Lilburn’s music is highly refined like a single malt whisky than has been triple distilled to achieve exceptional purity. It is therefore also understandable that he believed that his music should not require programme notes or commentary; it does indeed speak for itself.
The music is both seriously beautiful and beautifully serious with an honesty that is totally without artifice. It is music that reveals itself slowly. It requires a serious approach by listeners and demands their full attention as the ideas unfold and grow. The string quartet is a perfect illustration whilst the violin and piano sonata also incorporates an element of whimsy as the violin dances around the piano in the most attractively delicious way. This sonata is chock-full of delightful melodies making for compelling listening.
Restricting himself to the limits of two violins in his Duos for two violins
Lilburn showed how closely he could follow Stravinsky's dictum. He produces wonderfully pure sounds that are the very essence of such a concept. Conceived as incidental music for Ngaio Marsh’s productions of Shakespeare’s plays the two canzonettas are utterly beguiling in their simplicity. The final offering is Lilburn’s String Trio
from 1945. Like the quartet, which came a year later, it is another fine example of all that has gone before. This is serious music stripped of any affectation and pared down to the very essentials.
It is heartening to see that Atoll, a New Zealand record label is championing Lilburn’s music and, together with Naxos (symphonies
~~ orchestral works
and Kiwi Pacific (review
) there are now several opportunities to explore many of Lilburn’s works from the three symphonies, piano music, his complete electro-acoustic music and the other orchestral music. This is a good start but there is a great deal more crying out to be recorded. Anyone who hears his music will want that to be done as soon as possible.
This disc is a real joy. The performers match their playing to their obvious commitment to the music of their worthy compatriot. A fine achievement altogether.