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]


  1. links dead, alas.
    fileserve supports file sharing no more since April 1st...
    maybe you'd better mirrored it elsewhere (, mediafire, RS)?

    thanks in advance.

  2. The record release date should not be 1974 as shown in the title of this article but instead should be 1976. This is because the work was performed and recorded in September 1975 and the record sleeve notes by the composer have a copyright date of 1976.

  3. R of P was in fact written to open the Opera Theatre at the Opera House... as it turned out Sculthorpe didn't get it finished in time so they put on War and Peace instead. I have several articles about it if you'd like to read them... and I would absolutely love to get a copy of your out-of-print CD of it, if that is humanly possible...???!!