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Sculthorpe: Fifth Continent / Little Suite

Schwertsik / Sculthorpe / Atkins / Tso / Porcelijn
Release Date: 01/15/2007 
Label:  Abc Classics   Catalog #: 4765922  
Composer:  Peter Sculthorpe
Performer:  David PereiraVanessa SouterBarbara Jane GilbyPeter Sculthorpe,   ... 
Conductor:  David Porcelijn
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 3 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

This current superlative disc … offers a fascinating snapshot of Sculthorpe’s composing career, through both original and re-cycled music. The results are never less than attractively intriguing.

Peter Sculthorpe is a Tasmanian through and through. He can trace his family in Launceston back to 1841 when his great-great-grandfather was transported from Lambeth, south London, for larceny. In 1946 Sculthorpe travelled to study in Melbourne and Sydney and, in 1958, he went for postgraduate study at Wadham College, Oxford where he rubbed shoulders with Edmund Rubbra, Egon Wellesz and Wilfrid Mellers. He returned to Tasmania in 1960 when he learnt his father was terminally ill and wrote Irkanda IV in 1961, “written upon the
Read more death of my father”, which was subsequently slightly modified to form the second movement, Outback, from The Fifth Continent. Some may be familiar with some of Sculthorpe’s music through the excellent Naxos CD (8.557382) reviewed by Rob Barnett three years ago and will be familiar with the composer’s original, accessible and reflectively melancholy music. This current superlative disc appears to be a straight re-issue of the ABC Classics 456 363-2 CD reviewed by Hubert Culot in 2002 and now under the TSO Australian Composers Series banner. It offers a fascinating snapshot of Sculthorpe’s composing career, through both original and re-cycled music. The results are never less than attractively intriguing.

The Fifth Continent was written in 1963 and was based on D.H. Lawrence’s Australian novel Kangaroo from 40 years earlier. Sculthorpe had first turned to Lawrence in his early song-cycle Sun in 1958. In The Fifth Continent Sculthorpe chose extracts from Lawrence’s novel to introduce each of the five sections of the work. Words and music are carefully matched for mood and design and Sculthorpe himself reads the Lawrence passages eloquently in his Tasmanian accent. A Prologue sets the scene both literally and musically, the works main musical thematic material being set out in essence. The second section, Outback, the one incorporating Irkanda IV, is introduced by words by Lawrence but also the faint and evocative sounds of a didgeridoo. Small Town is an affectionate portrait of the shanty township of Thirroul, south of Sydney, as discovered by Lawrence. This movement features some beautiful oboe and cello playing from memebers of the TSO. Taped wind sounds accompany the fourth section, Pacific; this is a lonely and desolate picture underpinned by the Lawrence extract from Kangaroo. The final Epilogue contains some very beautiful and touching music, the sound of the lonely didgeridoo being the last sound that is heard. I enjoyed this piece more and more on repeated listenings and warmed to the moods skillfully evoked by the composer.

The other works on this disc are all much shorter. There are two versions of the most recent piece on the CD, Port Arthur: In Memoriam, a work remembering the 35 victims of a lone gunman who went on the rampage in Port Arthur historical park on 28 April 1996. The CD opens with the version for trumpet which invokes in me memories of Copland’s Quiet City, while the version for oboe, with a strangely altogether different atmosphere with the changed solo instrument, closes the programme.

The Aboriginal chant ‘Djilile’ (‘whistling duck on a billabong’) was first used by Sculthorpe in a 1974 film score for an ABC-TV film and later transplanted into the string piece Port Essington three years later. The chant reappeared in Kakadu (1988), heard on the Naxos CD mentioned at the beginning of this review. The first work bearing the name Djilile appeared in 1986 in versions for piano solo and cello and piano. This work seems to be Sculthorpe’s answer to Arvo Pärt’s Fratres, existing in several arrangements – including one for a consort of four viols. The arrangement presented here was written especially for this recording and receives a persuasive performance by Sue-Ellen Paulsen. She also plays very poignantly in the Lament – originally written for string orchestra in 1976 and here presented in the 1991 arrangement with solo cello. The music is unremittingly beautiful and intense, with the harmonic language sometimes reminding me of the early Messiaen of L’Ascension.

As it is easy to see, Sculthorpe is not backward in cross-fertilising his music with re-used material. Lament had borrowed material from a theatre score Rites of Passage and the Little Suite (1983) reworks music from his earlier years as a composer; Sea Chant from 1962 in the first movement and the Little Serenade, from a 1968 film soundtrack Age of Consent, in the second. It re-uses a bass line from the song Heart and Soul, previously heard in the Small Town movement of The Fifth Continent. The final movement, Left Bank Waltz, uses music also found in yet another film score Found in a Cave.

Night-Song was written in 1976 for the newly-formed Australian Chamber Orchestra and again uses borrowed material, this time from a song The Stars Turn, with words by Tony Morphett, which had been a 1970 ABC Proms commission for the project Love 200, celebrating the 200th anniversary of Cook’s landing in Australia. Its lyricism is evident from the outset, with jazz-tinged harmonies adding to its appeal.

The Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra is the smallest of Australia’s symphony orchestras with a full-time complement of only 47 musicians. However, the scale of the orchestral forces perfectly suites the works on this CD and they are uniformly excellently and sympathetically performed, sensitively led by David Porcelijn. The sound captured by the engineers in the Government House Ballroom in Hobart can occasionally seem a little distant but no real loss of detail is perceived and the warm bloom to the sound often adds positively to Sculthorpe’s redolent textures.

-- Derek Warby, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

The Fifth Continent by Peter Sculthorpe
Performer:  David Pereira (Cello), Vanessa Souter (Harp), Barbara Jane Gilby (Violin),
Peter Sculthorpe (Speaker), Joseph Ortuso (Oboe), Bruce Lamont (Trumpet),
Mark Atkins (Didjeridu)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1963 
Lament for Cello and String Orchestra by Peter Sculthorpe
Performer:  Sue-Ellen Paulsen (Cello)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1991 
Night Song by Peter Sculthorpe
Conductor:  David Porcelijn
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1995; Australia 
Djilile by Peter Sculthorpe
Performer:  Sue-Ellen Paulsen (Cello)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1986; Australia 
Little Suite by Peter Sculthorpe
Conductor:  David Porcelijn
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1983 
Port Arthur: In Memoriam by Peter Sculthorpe
Performer:  Barbara Jane Gilby (Violin), Mark Skillington (Trumpet)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1996 

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