I probably had heard one thing or two by Peter Sculthorpe (including and maybe limited to the recordings of the Kronos Quartet, Music By Peter Sculthorpe etc.etc., and Brodsky Quartet, Lament), but hadn't really been exposed to his music. Of him I only knew that he was one of the important and most-prolific composers of the Australian area, without even being sure if he was Australian, New Zealander or something else. So he's an Aussie.
I'm not sure it was a good idea to open the recital with the Four Little Pieces for Piano Duet (two of them, Sea Chant and Left-bank Waltz, are repeated in the two last tracks in their alternative version for piano solo), arranged in 1979, on the occasion of Sculthorpe's 50th birthday, from pre-existing pieces (Left Bank Waltz, originally composed in 1958, is one of Sculthorpe's earliest compositions). Oh, sure, they are pretty (and more wistfully played in their solo version), and would make great music for a cinematographic sentimental romance, but I expected more of Sculthorpe than pretty ballad-like melodies suitable for a cinematographic romance with just about as much value and durability as the paper tissue one uses during the film. That they were written to be played by the very young is no excuse - Bartok and others amply proved that one can write music for the very young without relinquishing all compositional exigencies. But apparently Sculthorpe considers that this aspect is also representative of his work. So be it. Likewise, Rose bay Quadrilles (track 13)... are simply Quadrilles, that you'd think were written in 1850. In fact, I wrote this before reading anything about them in the liner notes, and was so dumbfounded that Sculthorpe could have composed such things (OK, improvising them for the entertainment of friends at a party; but actually publishing and performing them????), that I went to the notes to try and understand what the occasion might have been. Well, sigh of relief, it turns out that they are not by Sculthorpe at all, but by the early Australian composer William Stanley, and were composed in 1856 (hey, my Carbon 14 dating was pretty accurate!), and are among the earliest "western" music to have been composed and printed in Australia; Sculthorpe published a performing edition. Tucked between his own works, the effect is jarring, and not so welcome.
Fortunately the rest is more characteristic. The compositions go from 1954 (Sonatina) to the 1980s (Mountains 1981, Nocturnal 1989 after the slow movement of the 1983 Piano Concerto, and Djilile 1989). The moods are slow moving, mysterious, nocturnal (no coincidence that six tracks are indeed Nocturnes), meditative, hymnal. The music is not very demanding, but highly atmospheric. Intriguing how, in the 1954 Sonatina, the rejoicing of an Aboriginal tribe can sound like a Bartokian folk-dance from middle Europe (track 15). The tunes of Djilile and Nocturnal (tracks 12 and 14, absurdly separated by the Quadrilles) sound very much inspired by Japanese folk music to me, although they are in fact (or at least Nocturnal) based on Aboriginal melodies. Folk-tunes of all the world, unite.
A special mention must go to the two Kotos and Landscape (tracks 16 to 18). Although the liner notes don't acknowledge it, Koto I and II, with their piano strings and japanese atmosphere, hark back directly to the music of Henry Cowell and especially his Snows of Fujiyama. Whatever the borrowings, the piece is particularly beautiful and fascinating. Landscape is even more elaborate and involves not only playing in/with the piano strings, but also pre-recording and overdubbing. Again it conjures an eerie and fascinating soundworld in which the piano is turned into a percussion instrument that could have been invented by a cross-breed of Cowell and Harry Partch.
This CD first originated as an LP, involving only pianists Michael Hannan and the composer, recorded in 1976 and released by Move Records in 1981 (Hannan plays the Kotos and Landscape, and Sculthorpe the last two solo pieces). The rest was recorded for the CD reissue in 1989 by the group called The Team of Pianists, comprised (here) of six pianists. TT 74-minutes, very detailed and informative liner notes.