Various Artists

Peter Sculthorpe: ...Spirits of Place

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Peter Sculthorpe, the first Australian composer to achieve international prominence, frequently evokes images of the geography of his country in his titles and in the elemental character of his music. Even in the relatively short chamber pieces recorded here, for one to three instruments, the musical gestures are often monumental and spacious. Sculthorpe's music is rarely cerebral; at its best, it's deceptively simple, timbrally intriguing, and visceral in its impact.

The quality of the pieces recorded here is disappointingly uneven. While most of the music here is striking and engaging, there are several embarrassing and glaring exceptions. Sometimes when I'm dreaming, a transcription of an unremarkable pop-sounding song, and the banal and predictable Four little pieces for piano stand out badly among the compelling works that surround them. Two works from Sculthorpe's Irkanda series, Irkanda I for violin, and From Irkanda III for violin, cello and piano, are notable for their evocations of vastness and desolation. ("Irkanda" is an aboriginal word meaning a remote and lonely place.) Night Pieces, five miniatures for piano, are marvels of exquisitely delicate and exotic tone painting, and Djilile for cello and piano, is haunting in its juxtaposition of European and Aboriginal traditions. Violinist Ema Alexeeva and cellist David Apellániz play with dramatic intensity and full, rounded tone. Pianist Ananda Sukarlan plays with gravity, but very obviously flubs the pedaling of the final note of the album. The sound quality is clean but resonant.

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