Saturday, April 10, 2010

Peter Sculthorpe - Rites of Passage (1974)

I picked this one up fairly recently at a record shop in Annandale for $5. Bargain!
I first encountered the work of Peter Sculthorpe at a concert to commemorate his 60th birthday at Sydney Town Hall. Wiki tells me that he's about to turn 81, so I guess it must have been in 1989. The concert was also the Australian premiere of his work Kakadu, performed by the Sydney Symphony under Stuart Challender (there's a recording of their performance available on ABC Classics here) along with Varèse's Arcana, a work by Takemitsu, (I think it might have been Reqiuem for Strings), Sculthorpe's Irkanda IV (which is also on that ABC Classics recording) and something by Percy Grainger (not sure what, but it definitely wasn't Country Gardens). There may also have been a work by Debussy and/or Ravel so the genteel folk weren't entirely frightnened off.
By chance, I was seated just behind Jill Wran, the (then) wife of the recently retired Premier of NSW. I seem to recall her enjoying the Grainger, and sitting politely during the Sculthorpe, but  she did not seem to enjoy the Varèse one little bit.
I was there mostly to see the Varèse, whose work I knew only through the 1984 LP by Boulez. Before the concert, Sculthorpe did an interview for ABC radio, who were broadcasting the concert live (I forget who the interviewer was - it might have been Andrew Ford) where he gleefully said that Arcana might be the loudest noise ever heard in the Town Hall, and cheekily suggested that they might need to put a plug in Dame Joan's ear. I instantly liked the man, before having even heard a note of his music. (he was probably right about the noise too - unfortunately I don't have a good tape of the concert, due to a piece of cassetulant ineptitude by a friend tasked with recording it at home).

Anyway, I guess I had assumed that there were Australian composers, but I had never really given it much thought, much less been able to name any or recognise their work. To be honest, I probably couldn't name more than half a dozen now if you put a gun to my head. It's good, at least, to see Sculthorpe getting some wider media coverage in his dotage. He's even considered a living national treasure these days. I'll never forget the impact that Kakadu had on me the first time I heard it. Sculthorpe slightly spoiled it for me in the pre-concert interview by mentioning that someone in America had erroneously suggested to him that the main theme should be sung as "Kakadu! Kakadu! It's Kakadu! It's it's it's it's Kakadu..." etc etc, and it's sometimes difficult not to think of this while hearing it. There's a section where the strings use some kind of squeaky bowing technique (to use the technical term) that imitates a large flock of birds taking wing. You can hear it on the ABC recording, but the sensation of hearing it done live is incomparable.

I have since tried to get hold of whatever recordings I could find of Sculthorpe's music, so was a bit chuffed to find this one down in the dregs of the classical section the other day. It's a lot more dissonant than his later work, slightly reminiscent of his more famous Sun Music (of which I might post an early recording one day), but with vocals. Trying to get some background info, I stumbled across this old news story about the work in progress. The stage production must have been a hoot. It's also mentioned retrospectively in this interview from 1988 (which is unfortunately very slow to load). I could be wrong, but I think this might be the only issued recording of the piece. A revised version was apparently performed at last year's Canberra International Music Festival, so perhaps another recording will be forthcoming. I don't know whether this one was previously released on a different label and reissued on World Record Club, or this is the original release.

The Victorian College of the Arts Orchestra
With the Melbourne Chorale Continuing Choir.
Conducted by John Hopkins.

A1: Chorale I (5:49)
A2: Chorale II (7:40)
A3: Chorale III (2:43)
A4: Chorale IV (4:11)
B1: Chorale V - Rebirth (7:14)
B2: Chorale VI (16:24)

World Record Club, Cat # WRC-R 030074
320kbps mp3

[Links fixed 22/1/12]

Friday, April 2, 2010

Serge Ermoll's Free Kata - The New Language of Music Vol. 2 Featuring John Clare (1976)

And here's Volume 2, featuring the improvised poetry of John Clare. I'm no judge of poetry, so I've not much to say about that aspect of it, save to say that it's quite an impressive feat to get through 28 minutes of free improv (much less in the presence of such an unholy racket) without repeating yourself and falling back on old riffs or talking absoulute gibberish. I have heard Clare speaking a few times and don't recall his having such clipped BBC diction. I could be wrong, though. Clare says in the liner notes that he was subject to "an emotional browbeating" by the musicians during these sessions, he assumes to enhance his spontaneity and prevent his falling back into old material.

Whenever I hear "poetry and jazz" I'm afraid I can't help but think of Lenny Bruce's old Psychopathia Sexualis bit.

However, I suspect this is largely my own problem.

Clare used to be quite a prolific writer, both in the Sydney Morning Herald and the free "inky" gig guide, On the Street (where for some time he used the pseudonym Gail Brennan, claiming that when he used his real name people accused him of pretentiously copping the name of a 19th Century English poet).
He also wrote a book called Bodgie Dada and the Cult of Cool, a history of post-war Australian jazz. I borrowed this from the library when it came out, and can recommend it. I bought a copy recently but haven't gotten around to re-reading it.
Clare's columns in OTS were occasionally a bit rambly and self-indulgent, but more often were invaluable to those like me who were looking for music that was a bit beyond what was on Triple J at the time. He was a staunch supporter of SIMA too, and on his advice I saw many a gig at the Strawberry Hills, where I would often see him, sitting up the front nursing an orange juice and listening, rapt, to the music.
I was about to say that I didn't know what he was up to nowadays, having not seen his writing published recently, but the SIMA site linked to above contains his review of the recent Wayne Shorter concert at the Opera House (which I also attended), and several reviews and diaries going back a few years. I really should try and keep up with this stuff.

I'll be buggered if I can remember where and when I bought this album, or how much I paid for it, save to say that it was a brief time after I bought the first volume.

A1: Atlantis (28.24)
B1: Derelictus (14:51)

[NB the tracks are labelled the other way around on the sleeve and label, but it seems clear from the lyrical content they should be labelled as above. Side one is very long for a vinyl record, so it's a bit noisy in the quieter parts - I've given it a clean with the trusty AM fluid, but haven't tried to clean it digitally for fear of losing some of the music]

John Clare - Vocals
Serge Ermoll - Piano
Louis Burdett - Drums
Eddie Bronson - Saxophone
Recorded October 10, 1976

Free Kata Records, Cat # KATA 003.
320kbps mp3

[Links fixed 22/1/12]