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Home is where ... Douglas LILBURN (1915-2001)
Salutes to Seven Poets (1952) [25:00] George ENESCU (1881-1955)
Sonata in the Romanian Folk Character [23:18] Boris PIGOVAT (b.1953)
Sonata for Viola and Piano [25:59]
Donald Maurice (viola); Richard Mapp (piano)
rec. no details given ATOLL ACD 413 [74:26]
With a population of only four and a half million and located so far from Europe it would be perfectly understandable if the New Zealand record label Atoll concentrated on the music of New Zealand composers. After all this disc is entitled Home is where ... Music of national identity. Instead it has chosen to feature music from Romania and Ukraine alongside some of its own — a big-hearted and outward looking attitude which I regard as salutary.
Salutes to Seven Poets came into being as a commission from New Zealand poet Allen Curnow for a poetry reading in 1952 at which the seven poets read several of their own works. After that performance Douglas Lilburn put his composition aside and forgot about it until reminded of it in 1988 by Lady Dorothea Turner who had reviewed its first performance. What a fortunate thing that was; it would have been a huge loss if it had never resurfaced. Originally written for violin and piano it was arranged for viola and piano by Donald Maurice. That version here receives its first recording. Maurice was absolutely right in his view that the viola is particularly suited to bringing out the contemplative and lugubrious atmosphere of these pieces. They are all magnificent and superbly tuneful. There are some achingly beautiful settings as well as some that are jolly and upbeat. It would be really interesting to read the poems alongside listening to the music but these small miracles work brilliantly in their own right.
George Enescu, best known for his Romanian Rhapsody No. 1, and for being one of Yehudi Menuhin’s teachers was, in fact, one of those rare geniuses whose composing life began, aged five. He went to study at the Vienna Conservatory at the age of seven. He was a passionate collector of folk melodies and these often find their way into his compositions, sometimes overtly as in this Sonata in the Romanian Folk Character. It is redolent of the gypsy style and is an extremely attractive work that is truly beguiling. Once again this is a transcription (from 1926) of the original, which was written as a violin sonata. Her it has been arranged for viola again by Donald Maurice. Enescu was a superlative violinist which is obvious from the intricacies that are woven into his violin music and which work equally successfully on the viola. The piano part often replicates the ţambal (the hammered dulcimer) helping to recreate the gypsy groups that for centuries have tramped the countryside of Eastern Europe from Poland to Belarus and Moldova. The work has a programme which is detailed in the booklet and which serves to highlight the content. This increases the understanding and appreciation of a remarkable work and a pivotal one in Enescu’s oeuvre.
The name of Boris Pigovat is a new one to me. Born in Odessa in 1953, he studied in Moscow and lived in Tadjikistan between 1978 and 1990 after which he emigrated to Israel. The New Zealand connection here is that his Viola Sonata, composed in 2012, was dedicated to Donald Maurice. The first movement can be programmed separately with the title Botticelli’s Magnificat, inspired as it is by Botticelli’s painting Madonna of the Magnificat (from the early 1480s). It’s a complex but highly rewarding work with a central movement of searing intensity that has Bachian overtones. Its two outer movements are wonderfully melodic and very beautiful, containing some memorable themes. There is no doubt that on the evidence of this work Boris Pigovat is a composer whose other works are very well worth exploring.
The three works on this disc are in total contrast to each other but work extremely well as a programme. Here they serve to focus attention on the brilliant viola playing of Donald Maurice while proving once again how ridiculous is the oft-repeated canard that the viola is the poor relation of the violin.