, January 2009
Douglas Lilburn is one of New Zealand’s leading composers and he could not be better served than by this splendid Naxos disc which gathers together the three symphonies which are at the very kernel of his output. He is a true symphonist: his structures are not inflated, and the orchestral colouring is an integral part of the musical argument. Inspired by the spacious landscapes and mountain ranges of his homeland, the first two are heavily included by Sibelius; indeed the slow movement of No. 1 (1949) includes a direct quotation. Vaughan Williams (under whom the composer studied in England) makes his presence felt in the slow movement of No. 2 and perhaps also in the folksy flavor of the Scherzos. In the Third Symphony (1961) Lilburn finds an even more individual voice. Lighter-textured than the others, often skittish, it is in one continuous movement that falls into five sections, all of which use a three-note rising motif, heard at the very opening. Although there are aspects of serialism here, one would hardly guess, so spontaneously appealing is the writing. Indeed, all three symphonies are splendid works, immediately drawing the listener in to their special world, and they could not have a more committed advocate. Judd’s performances are vigorously alive, gripping, and splendidly played, and the Naxos recording is vividly detailed, with plenty of warmth and atmosphere.