This is a terrific collection of brief to medium length pieces, masterfully composed and recorded. Peter Sculthorpe is an original voice in Australian music. Combining classical forms with indigenous native music to create a uniquely Pacific Rim sound, he also draws on the sounds of the ancient Japanese and Balinese Courts well as utilizing the timbres of the primitive didgeridoo and native Australian percussion. Sculthorpe’s melodies are sweeping and magisterial in effect.
Earthcry (1986) refers to the cry of the earth as heard by Aborigines for thousands of years. Elemental feelings of a timeless landscape are evoked by massed brass, winds, strings and the organic sounds created by the the didgeridoo. The overall effect of this fourteen minute work is spellbinding.
Memento Mori (1993) (literally ‘remember to die’) refers to the tragic destruction of resources and loss of civilization on Easter Island in the early eighteenth century. A plainchant Dies Irae is heard in measured tread against brass and percussion. This is evocative music of regret, a lamentation ultimately suggestive of salvation for the Planet. The music is dominated by the plainchant and the oscillation of the keys G and A flat, believed by the astronomer Kepler to represent the sound of the Earth. Powerful stuff, this is !
Sculthorpe’s Piano Concerto (1983) is one of his most frequently performed works. It is in one movement, five sections. Some of the musical ideas used stem from Japan and Bali. The piece is quite atmospheric, reminiscent of Falla’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain. The solo piano is brilliantly reflective amongst plaintive solos by oboe, bassoon and solo strings. Like the Falla, this is a magically contemplative work.
In From Oceania (2003), Sculthorpe treats the orchestra “like a giant percussion instrument.” The effect is cumulative, hypnotically similar to some of Villa Lobos’ music.
Kakadu (1988) depicts the vast national park in northern Australia. Indigenous chant, reflection, imitations of birdsong and sounds of exultation express Sculthorpe’s profound feelings for this place. An English horn solo is played in counterpoint to the chant with lovely effect.
If the playing on this CD is representative, the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra under Music Director James Judd, has developed into a world class group. The strings are lush or spare as called for, nimble, well-disciplined. The wind soloists are characterful; the brass is burnished of tone. The recording from Wellington town Hall in 2003 presents a broad, deep, most natural soundstage with the listener positioned midway into the auditorium. No detail of Sculthorpe’s broad ranging orchestral palette is missing. This is a demonstration quality orchestral recording of serious, compelling, enriching music. Most highly recommended!
— Ronald Legum