Women of Note: A Century of Australian Composers (2CD)

ABC Classics & Jazz
Current Stock:
Various Artists

This International Women's Day (March 8), ABC Classic is releasing Women of Note: A Century of Australian Composers – the first in a new series celebrating Australian female composers.

Australia has always punched above our weight musically, our female musicians especially – Nellie Melba, Joan Sutherland and Eileen Joyce in particular loom large among the finest musicians of the twentieth century. But beyond these celebrated performers, the history of Australia's female composers is equally outstanding.

Miriam Hyde, Dulcie Holland and Margaret Sutherland were hugely influential in the early years of Australia's musical development. Peggy Glanville-Hicks and Anne Boyd looked beyond our borders to the musical traditions of other cultures, and sought to find a place for Australia among the community of musical nations.

Elena Kats-Chernin is a phenomenon unto herself, arguably Australia's most popular and best known composer. Yuin woman Brenda Gifford brings insights from her Indigenous culture to the Western classical tradition. And composers such as Sally Whitwell, Maria Grenfell, Kate Moore, Nicole Murphy and Olivia Bettina Davies represent the myriad ways in which classical music is developing in the 21st century.

This compilation is a fascinating journey through the history of Australian composition, highlighting just how much of that history has been written by women.

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1-3. MIRIAM HYDE Piano Concerto No. 1 (1934)
Miriam Hyde (piano)
West Australian Symphony Orchestra, Geoffrey Simon

4-6. DULCIE HOLLAND Piano Trio (1944)
Eggner Trio

7-9. PEGGY GLANVILLE-HICKS - Etruscan Concerto (1954)
Caroline Almonte (piano)
Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, Richard Mills



1-3. MARGARET SUTHERLAND Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (1960)
Leonard Dommet (violin)
Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Patrick Thomas

4. ANNE BOYD As I Crossed a Bridge of Dreams (1975)
The Contemporary Singers, Anthony Walker

5. ELENA KATS-CHERNIN Russian Rag (1995/6)
Sydney Alpha Ensemble, David Stanhope

6-8. MARIA GRENFELL Di Primavera (Of Spring) (1998/2001)
Claire Edwardes (marimba), Karin Schaupp (guitar)

9. SALLY WHITWELL Road Trip (2012)
Sally Walker (flute), Sally Whitwell (piano)

10. KATE MOORE Fern (2012)
Ensemble Offspring

11. NICOLE MURPHY Spinning Top (2016)
Benaud Trio

12. BRENDA GIFFORD Bardju (Footprints) (2017)
Ensemble Offspring

13. OLIVIA BETTINA DAVIES Crystalline (2018)
ACO Collective

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A musical feast that leaves you wanting more.



At a time when the question of equality of women in business and politics is a matter of concern, it seems appropriate to issue a compilation of music by female Australian composers. That is what ABC Classics under the stewardship of Hugh Robertson has done, with the suggestion that this two-disc set may be the first in a series. There is nothing tokenistic, or indeed opportunistic, about the enterprise - because right through the 20th century female composers have been and still continue to be prolific and influential in this country. The booklet note stresses that virtually every local child learning piano has come across the short, easy and memorable teaching pieces by Miriam Hyde and Dulcie Holland in the A.M.E.B. course. (I certainly did.) Holland herself provided endless encouragement and opportunities for the next generation of composers such as Margaret Brandman. Thanks to ABC Classic FM, Australian music lovers are also well versed in the work of Elena Kats-Chernin, Sally Whitwell and other of their contemporaries. This anthology delves into ABC recorded archives to bring us major works by Hyde, Holland and Margaret Sutherland, plus a series of short pieces that form an overview of more recent music ranging from Anne Boyd (b. 1946) to Olivia Bettina Davies (b. 1988). The diversity of the program is fascinating: the common thread is the high standard of technical assurance that these creative artists bring to their work.

Disc 1 contains the first of Miriam Hyde's two piano concertos, composed in 1934, recorded in 1975 with the West Australian Symphony Orchestra under Geoffrey Simon with the 62-year-old composer at the piano. She was a formidable pianist. The work is late Romantic in style, owing something to Rachmaninov in the elaborate piano part and the Russian turn of phrase in the second theme. Compared to many similar works in Hyperion's Romantic Piano Concerto series, Hyde's concerto is more disciplined and more memorable. Dulcie Holland's Piano Trio of 1944, played by the Eggner Trio, is astringent and modernist: very strong in its impact. Thirdly, a piece I have always loved because of its unique personality and 'fun' factor is the Etruscan Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (1954) by Peggy Glanville-Hicks, an expatriate Australian who made her career in New York as a composer and music critic. This excellent 2007 performance features pianist Caroline Almonte, with Richard Mills conducting the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra. The Etruscan Concerto is, to my knowledge, the only work here to have had a second recording. It was also recorded by the Brooklyn Philharmonic under Dennis Russell Davies, with no less a pianist than the jazz player Keith Jarrett.

Disc 2 opens with Margaret Sutherland's Violin Concerto of 1960, with soloist Leonard Dommett and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra conducted by John Hopkins. This is another work of broad scope and considerable facility, somewhat reminiscent of Elgar or Arthur Bliss in its textures and gestures (and less long-winded than Bliss's Violin Concerto).

I do not have space to go into the short works in detail, except to say that each one has a distinctive voice. Anne Boyd's As I Crossed a Bridge of Dreams, the only vocal piece included, displays her interest in Japanese music, which was a bracing stimulus in the 1970s as Australian composers severed their ties with the English tradition. Elena Kats-Chernin's Russian Rag is a popular example of her ragtime writing, and each of the subsequent pieces by Maria Grenfell, Sally Whitwell, Kate Moore, Nicole Murphy, Brenda Gifford and Olivia Bettina Davies offers something special and individual. Grenfell's Di Primavera for vibraphone and guitar - a mellifluous combination - also showcases the work of two of Australia's top musicians who happen to be women: percussionist Claire Edwardes and guitarist Karin Schaupp.

This anthology is more than the sum of its parts, and much more than a timely political exercise. It's a musical feast. 5 STARS