Australian music for cello and piano
David Pereira - cello
Timothy Young - piano
$23 (Australian dollars)
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|This is the first disc of its kind to be released in Australia - an overview of important works written for cello and piano, spanning a period of 108 years. The earliest work is the Grainger Scandinavian Suite, a tour de force for both performers and a work that deserves a place in the concert hall. Other heritage masterpieces include Ian Farr’s Sonata, a work which repays the time spent to becoming acquainted with it, and neglected since its initial performances, and Don Banks’ seminal Three Studies.|
The latest work on the CD is one of several of Martin Wesley-Smith’s Papuan works: Morning Star Lament, which requires the cellist to sing. Elena Kats-Chernin’s Blue Silence, Alicia Grant’s Night Spell and Ian Munro’s Lucy Sleeps all cast a gentle spell, which is totally dispelled by Hindson’s racy Jungle Fever.
David Pereira teams up with Timothy Young (pianist at the Australian National Academy of Music) to present these works.
This CD release is part of Tall Poppies’ 21st birthday celebrations.
|Elena Kats-Chernin||Blue Silence (2006)|
|Percy Grainger ||La Scandinavie (1902)|
|Don Banks ||Three Studies for Violoncello and Piano (1954)|
|Alicia Grant ||Night Spell (2006)|
|Martin Wesley-Smith||Morning Star Lament (2010)|
|Ian Farr||Sonata for cello and piano (1969)|
|Ian Munro||Lucy Sleeps (1992)|
|Matthew Hindson||Jungle Fever (1998)|
|A full disc of Australian cello music is not to be sneezed at. Percy Grainger’s lovely, virtuosic suite is the only work generally known. So let’s explore.|
Elena Kats-Chernin (b. 1957) wrote the title track as a possible relief from schizophrenia by way of calmness and meditation. It just might cure someone; it’s a very lovely and comforting romantic piece. It is followed by the folklike, virtuosic Grainger suite. Then we plunge into 12 tones with Don Banks (1923-80), who writes with a fine combination of lyricism alternating with violence. Alicia Grant (b. 1978) contrasts with a slithery piece calculated to hypnotize the listener, if not the performers.
We awaken to Martin Wesley-Smith (b. 1945), whose Morning Star Lament includes a vocal line sung by we know not who. This is a political statement concerning the unfortunate fate of West Papua, occupied by Indonesia. It is quite a piece, full of variety and feeling of varied kinds.
There is a one-movement sonata by Ian Farr (1941-2006) that pulls us back into atonality for 10 minutes, a jagged argument between instruments where they alternate between single-note comments and related exclamations of various kinds. It is quite entertaining. Suddenly Lucy falls asleep in the arms of her father, Ian Munro (b. 1963) in a lovely, light atmosphere. At four minutes, this is the shortest piece on the program. Finally, we reawaken to Matthew Hindson (b. 1968) with a case of Jungle Fever—not the jungle, but the disease. But there’s a good deal of life and vigor in this work despite the subject.
Pereira and Young play this varied program with feeling and musicality.
© 2013 D Moore
American Record Guide
This disc presents eight contrasted works by Australian composers, of which five are premiere recordings.
The most extended offering is La Scandinavie (Scandinavia, 1902) by Grainger, five settings of Swedish, Norwegian and Danish folksongs demonstrating the composer’s infatuation with northern lands. There are important piano parts and the overall effect is typically evocative.
The Three Studies of Don Banks are given a taut reading, the central Lento espressivo well contrasted in tempo and mood with the faster outer movements. They have previously appeared on Tall Poppies (Georg Pedersen and David Bollard, 1994) but can always sustain another version.
A welcome inclusion is Ihe Ian Farr Sonata of 1969, an atonal, spare-textured work cast in one continuous movement with disparate sections. The sonata contains ideas and atmosphere originally meant for a Dance of Death for solo piano and orchestra, and an opera planned at the time. There is an impressive climax before a solo cello cadenza ushers in a tranquil ending, and various registers of both instruments are judiciously exploited, especially the low pitches.
Elena Kats-Chernin’s Blue Silence (2006), which lends the CD its title, is based on a simple ostinato figure in the piano while the cello floats over it with largely long-held notes and a chordal series in the piano’s bass register. Written for an exhibition devoted to artists suffering from schizophrenia, it was intended to induce calm in her son Alexander, who suffers from the condition.
The provocatively-titled Jungle Fever (1998) by Matthew Hindson features an imposing opening which leads to a catchy, syncopated section, only to return and combine with the earlier, quicker material. Like much of this composer’s music, the piece has surface appeal but may not sustain repeated listenings.
Night Spell (2006) by Alicia Grant obtains its mesmeric effect by the use of repeated sermquaver chords over which the cello line hovers in trance-like state. It is the second piece in a bigger work for cello and piano called Three Magic Pieces.
The short lullaby by Ian Munro, Lucy Sleeps (1992), the first piece from the project Lucy’s Book, was composed for his young daughter. Presumably originally for piano, the present version is unpretentious and touchingly effective.
Finally, Martin Wesley-Smith’s Morning Star Lament is a setting of a song, written in the 1930s by a Dutch missionary in Netherlands New Guinea, which eventually became the colony’s official anthem. At the same time, the Morning Star flag became its official flag; both were subsequently banned. The work approaches the original in the spirit of an elegy rather than an anthem, and emerges as one of the disc’s highlights.
Blue Silence fills a gap in Australian recorded music. Pereira demonstrates once again what an extremely imaginative cellist he is, and is well-matched by Young, whose playing is highly accomplished. The sound is ambient, the packaging appealing, and there are informative annotations, including the composers' notes on the various works. Highly recommended.
[Disclaimer: The reviewer is a friend of the cellist on this recording, worked with him for many years (1980-1990) in the Australia Ensemble, resident at the University of New South Wales, and made two CDs with him for the Tall Poppies label. Comments made in the review are as impartial as possible.]
Music Forum Winter 2013
This has proved to be a greatly enjoyable introduction to a wide range of music for cello and piano by contemporary Australian composers. The one exception to that contemporary epithet is the inclusion of Percy Grainger’s 1902 Scandinavian Suite. Much as I enjoy Grainger, and given the work’s relative rarity it is a pleasure to hear but under the overall umbrella of ‘modern’ - albeit accessible - music it sits a fraction out of place.
All of the music here shows the composers to be individual, interesting and able to write music both attractive and of substance. For want of a better collective term - putting the Grainger to one side for the moment - this should be termed post-modernist in that for any contemporary compositional devices used these pieces are essentially tonal and direct in their emotional appeal. Interestingly the earliest work - Don Banks’ Three Studies is also the most self-consciously ‘modern’ indeed serial in its approach. Elena Kats-Chernin’s Blue Silence opens the disc, gives it its title and in many ways defines what is to come both musically, in performance terms and technically. All the works benefit from an English-only liner which includes a composer biography and photograph and a brief description of the work from the composer where possible. So we learn Kats-Chernin wrote her work for her son and other schizophrenia sufferers. She explains that such people yearn for silence and a state of meditative calm and that blue is a colour often associated with healing. This is a touchingly simple but not simplistic work - there are two basic musical building blocks; a rocking melodic figuration and a four chord sequence. In essence the work gently states, combines and recombines these elements over its eight minute course. The emotional landscape remains essentially gentle as suits its meditative mood. The work opens with the piano alone stating all of the musical material. Here and throughout the disc pianist Timothy Young proves to be an exceptionally fine player with a wide range of tone and keyboard colour whether chiming Kats-Chernin’s bell-like chords or Grainger’s furious fistfuls of notes. The entry of David Pereira’s wistful cello does raise an immediate query that persists throughout - Young’s piano sounds like the dominant partner both musically and as technically balanced by the production team. Given the nature of the opening work that is not an issue but elsewhere and certainly in the Grainger suite Pereira’s cello is subsumed in the storm of the piano writing.
David Pereira is a fine player and a champion of Australian string music. It is a pleasure to hear a player willing to produce a genuinely quiet sound but my only concern it that here the dynamic is too often allied to a thinning of the tone as well. This works well in the afore-mentioned Blue Silence and indeed later in the hypnotic Night Spell but seems less appropriate in the hale and hearty Grainger. The uncredited note writer mentions the difficulty of the work as one reason for its neglect. Certainly there are passages of cruelly demanding double-stopping, in the third movement Norwegian Polka especially that taxes Pereira. This is the only work on the CD for which I have comparable versions; from cellists Joel Moerschel on Northeastern records and Stephen Orton as part of Vol.13 of the Chandos Grainger Edition. It has to be said that both of those other cellists make a better fist of the Grainger than Pereira although I do prefer Young’s piano contribution which captures the forthright and muscular open-ness of Grainger’s writing to perfection. Don Banks’ Three Studies were his first completely 12-tone compositions written after an extended period of study with Luigi Dallapiccola, Milton Babbitt and Matyas Seiber. After the open-air directness of the Grainger these make for a striking contrast - it was a good programming choice to juxtapose them directly. For all the rigour and care in construction I find it hard to respond to music so clearly of the head rather than heart but they receive a palpably committed performance. Alicia Grant’s Night Spell and Ian Munro’s Lucy Sleeps in some way come together to form an - unrelated - triptych of miniatures together with the title work which inhabit a similar emotional landscape of hypnotic meditation and repose. Likewise skill in the programming links the Banks to Ian Farr’s Sonata. This is the other earlier/contemporary work dating from 1969 and again follows the aesthetic of contemporary music of the time which seems to equate this style of composition with seriousness of intent. A by-product of listening to this disc has been the crystallising of the idea that recent contemporary composers - regardless of their compositional techniques employed - seem more at ease with embracing overtly emotional external subjects.
Certainly that is the case with all the music presented here where the extra-musical stimuli evoke strongly felt emotions even when expressed in a ‘contained’ manner. Composer Martin Wesley-Smith clearly feels the plight of the oppressed peoples of West Papua and expresses his solidarity in Morning Star Lament. He describes the work as; “.. a lament for those who have died resisting the occupation, for those who are prisoners in their own country, for the destruction of their environment, for the brutality of the occupiers, for the hypocrisy of the West…”. Strong stuff. As is my wont, I listened to this disc the first time with no reference to the liner. With music I do not know it ensures no preconceptions or expectations. In the case of this Lament it also provided considerable confusion. In purely musical terms there is an extraordinarily wide range of styles and moods encompassed in the nine minutes of the work. This includes ‘serious’ contemporary clusters, brilliant be-bop like syncopating passages, a curiously impressive vocalise where one of the players, uncredited, accompanies themselves (the other?) singing a plaintive wordless melody. At first listen, it was the presence of a simple, almost saccharine melody richly harmonised in the best traditions of the tea-shop that frames the work that confused me. It turns out this melody, “O My Country Papua” was written in the 1930s and became the colony’s official anthem and at much the same time the Morning Star flag became its official flag. When Indonesia took over the country in 1963 both were banned. Certainly, knowing that cranks up the emotional temperature of the work several notches and ‘explains’ much of the music’s thrust in an instant. It does leave the listener with the eternal debate; should music need its context to be explained before you can evenly partially understand it. As it happens this was one of my favourite pieces on the disc even before I read the explanation - I enjoyed the diversity of styles it embraces and again it benefits from a very powerful performance. What one cannot divine from the superficial knowledge of a work afforded by this kind of review is whether/how the musical material of the anthem is transformed or developed in the main body of the work.
Perhaps worth mentioning here that five of the eight works presented here are getting their world premiere recordings. The disc closes with another of those five; Matthew Hindson’s Jungle Fever. I must admit that the presence of this work was my main reason for requesting it to review. I find Hindson to be one of the most interesting and convincing composers wrestling with the challenge of making true contemporary music relevant for an audience brought up listening to non-classical music. He does these by embracing elements of popular music; fantastic propulsive rhythms, memorable melodies and riffs but without ‘selling out’ by writing classical-pop or vapid pastiche. It’s a delicate balance but one he manages to achieve. This piece contains all of Hindson’s most typical and best gestures - big theatrical moments, nagging rock-derived ostinati and melodic cells of ear-worm memorability. Its another piece that might benefit from a richer, fuller cello tone but the athleticism and conviction of the playing is never in doubt.
Overall, this disc is an excellent sampler of the rich diversity and range of contemporary cello music being written by Australian composers. All credit to performers Pereira and Young for devoting the considerable amount of time and energy it must have taken to bring this amount of unfamiliar yet impressive music to the studio. A worthwhile project skilfully executed.
Tall Poppies' 222nd release is a contemplative hlstorical journey through the best of Australian music for cello. Couple the sensitive performance by Timothy Young at the piano, with the stalwart -of-everything-cello on the Tall Poppies label David Pereira, (he's also a fantastic cellist!) and you really have something special.
The eight works included on Blue Silence provide the perfect link into Pereira's ever-growing catalogue of cello works released on TP. In fact, If ever there was a CD to provide a tap into Australian cello music as a whole this is the one!
Kats-Chernin's title track opens the CD, unfortunately for this review words cannot describe now gorgeous, yet wrought with anguish it is. The cold harsh reality of Don Banks' early experiment with atonality in his Three Studies for Cello and Piano is exactly where it should be in the recording - definitely not an afterthought. Hindson's Jungle Fever is the last work on the release and I can't help but feel it finishes with a question mark, pointing toward the fact that this isn't all! Who knows what's going to be be composed for cello in the future?
Overall the mood is largely one of contemplation, Grainger's La Scandinavie does provide a bit of a break, but it certain have you dancing around the lounge room. Blue Silence is for those pensive moments: a testament to the depth of emotion our composers can inject into their music, and the depth of emotion our musicians can likewise then convey.
Fine Music, January 2013
Across his 30-year career, David Pereira has commissioned, performed and recorded more cello music than perhaps any other Australian cellist: from the solo suites of Bach to Rautavaara and the Russian romantics, to the ever-expanding Sculthorpe repertoire and dozens of works by other Australians. In this, his 13th CD of solo cello music on Tall Poppies, Pereira and Timothy Young, his extraordinarily versatile accompanist, survey a century of Australian cello composition, including several pieces virtually forgotten. At the top of that list is Ian Farr"s 1969 Sonata, its 10 minutes containing some of the most gritty moments in Australian music. At the start of the 20th century, the five dances of Grainger’s La Scandinavie contain moments that have defied generations of first-class cellists, but here they are tossed off ravishingly. In between are Don Banks"s Three Studies, classics of mid-century modernism. There is repose and lyricism in the softer textures of music by Elena Kats-Chernin and Alicia Grant, a lullaby by Ian Munro and bittersweet barbs in Martin Wesley-Smith"s plea for self-determination in West Papua. In Morning Star Lament, Pereira sings the affecting melody of what is the unofficial anthem of that province. Finally, Matthew "Hindson"s jaunty Jungle Fever breaks into an exhausting disco-club workout. Audio quality is crisp and bright, the kaleidoscopic range of texture elegantly captured throughout. With his producer Belinda Webster, Pereira continues to unearth Australian works for his instrument, pointing to an extraordinary wealth of repertoire, barely known even to other cellists.
The Australian 17 November 2012
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