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Peter Sculthorpe, who died last year, is regarded as Australia’s leading composer. He created what seems to be a distinctively Australian sound-world, referencing Aboriginal and other folk traditions – most apparent on the later pieces found on disc two of this excellent survey.

The early works, indebted to the discovery of Debussy’s Preludes in a Hobart music shop in the composer’s native Tasmania, are no more than interesting. The mature Sculthorpe appears with the Sonata of 1963, magisterial and with a sense of massiveness, despite its relative brevity. The gorgeously atmospheric Night Pieces (1971) contrast with a subsequent period in which the composer’s lifelong interest in the music of other cultures, especially Japan, was expressed through experimentation. In Koto Music I/II and Landscape – pieces composed in 1971-1976 – the pianist delves inside the piano, accompanied by pre-recorded tape.

The second disc features Sculthorpe’s most intensely personal music. He composed at the piano – confiding that ‘my [inner] ear was never the best’ – and his pieces are not virtuosic in the conventional sense. He re-used a handful of melodies or ‘songlines’, as in Djilile (1986), based on an Aboriginal song from Arnhem Land. Simori (1995) develops songs from Papua New Guinea’s Simori mountain people, featuring chant-like incantations and drones.

The five-movement Riverina (2011), named after a region of New South Wales, is unapologetically programme music. The first and second movements, Looking Back and The Wiradjuri Presence, feature birdcalls, as does the final movement, Thanksgiving. Before his death, Sculthorpe closely supervised this fine recording with Tamara-Anna Cislowska, who proves a highly persuasive interpreter.

ANDY HAMILTON Read the full review on Agora Classica


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