Thursday, May 26, 2011

Lilburn blows it

Well, if I was beginning to reconsider my stance on Douglas Lilburn's music, he's just blown it by the selection that's being broadcast this morning on the Concert programme.

I've just listened to his setting for baritone and viola of a poem called Warning of Winter, by Ursula Bethell. Now I have a bit of a feeling for this poem because I also wrote a setting of it - you can hear it here being sung by tenor Brent Read, for whom it was written. I was listening to Lilburn's moaning/groaning version - the viola moaning along in the background - as sung by Paul Whelan, and it was only after he'd been singing for a bit that I realised it was the same poem. It took some time, because not only was the setting utterly different, but Whelan's words weren't particularly clear, I'm afraid.

The other two songs in this group by Lilburn are a little better, but the combination of viola and voice doesn't grab me, perhaps because there's not a sense of musical assonance between the two. It's a very dry kind of combination. (Gillian Whitehead uses similar sorts of non-assonance groupings with some of her songs - she seems to have a particular penchant for writing for voice and bassoon, with piano sometimes also included.)

Besides this batch, there were also some of Lilburn's electronic pieces. Piece being the operative word. Like a few of his piano pieces they're minimalist, having almost no length. The pieces in question were: God Save, and Cicadas, Oscillators & Treefrogs. They were 'realised' in the electronic music studios at Victoria University, Wellington. God Save consists of a smatterings and mutterings of God Save the Queen; the other piece requires intent listening to hear anything much at all.

Thank goodness the Concert programme has been playing some of his other work. I don't think Lilburn broke much new ground with his electronic stuff, or did himself any favours as a composer, just as Stravinsky seemed to go off into a cul-de-sac when he got into serial music. (Does anyone listen to Stravinsky's serial music?)

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