Sculthorpe: Piano Concerto; Memento mori; Earth Cry; Kakadu; From Oceania

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COMPOSERS: Sculthorpe
WORKS: Piano Concerto; Memento mori; Earth Cry; Kakadu; From Oceania
PERFORMER: William Barton (didgeridoo), Tamara Anna Cislowska (piano); New Zealand SO/James Judd
CATALOGUE NO: 8.557382
The Tasmanian-born Peter Sculthorpe, 75 last year, has for a long time seemed likely to break through to wider international recognition with his strong, simple, yet never superficial orchestral pictures of Australia and the Pacific region. This disc might well do the trick. It begins spectacularly, with the sound of William Barton’s didgeridoo, rooted in the earth yet unearthly: Sculthorpe has grafted the instrument on to his 1986 Earth Cry, disrupting its open simplicity with a disturbingly irrational extra layer. Memento mori (1993) is a lament and a warning for the planet, minimalist in its static harmonies and multiple repetitions, and perhaps over-reliant on the ‘Dies irae’ plainchant melody. The single-movement Piano Concerto (1983) is more varied, with a busy but sonorous solo part, and reaches a glowing climax. From Oceania (1970/2003) uses the orchestra as a giant percussion instrument. Kakadu (1988) effectively contrasts the dry northern Australian landscape and the humanity of figures within the landscape, and ends in Janácek-like affirmation. It’s a well-planned programme, and it’s hard to imagine it much better played than by James Judd’s increasingly impressive New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, or by the two soloists, both Sculthorpe adepts. A vivid recording enhances the music’s striking impact. Anthony Burton