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Paul Turok
Turok’s Choice, June 2009

Austrialian composer John Antill’s Outback Overture and fascinating ballet Corroboree (incorporating his studies of Aboriginal music) are well performed by James Judd and the New Zealand Orchestra (8.570241). Fine sound.



Hubert Culot
MusicWeb International, December 2008

Antill’s Corroboree is a fine score. It includes some impressive scoring although it would be idle and—more importantly—meaningless to compare it either to Stravinsky’s innovative and ground-breaking Rite of Spring or to Prokofiev’s decibel-loaded Scythian Suite. It nevertheless deserves to be heard complete, especially when played with as much commitment and obvious relish as it is here. The New Zealanders do the Aussie proud.

There is no reason to complain about their involvement in their performance of Antill’s somewhat later An Outback Overture…Anyway, the complete Corroboree is the work that makes this none too generous disc worth acquiring both for those new to the piece and for those who cherished their long-deleted LP recording by Goossens. I had never heard either the complete work or the suite so I was delighted to have such a nice opportunity to do so. I wonder what are Antill’s other works like? Well worth more than the occasional hearing.



Bob McQuiston
Classical Lost and Found, September 2008

AUDIOPHILE

Most of the Australian composers writing in the first half of the twentieth century studied in Britain, making it almost impossible to find something by one of them which sounds like it’s exclusively from the “Land Down Under.” But that’s certainly not the case with John Antill (1904–1986), who was totally homegrown and educated, as you’ll discover when you hear this enterprising release from Naxos containing two of his best works. Both are laced with Aboriginal influences and possess an informal colonial folksiness as well as an in-your-face irreverence for the musical establishment that make them uniquely Australian.

The Outback Overture (1954) is a late-romantic offering that certainly exemplifies the “Australian Sound.” Although it begins peaceably, it’s not long before wheels start turning and it becomes a symphonic express through the outback. Like Charles Ives, Antill draws heavily on popular folk ditties for his melodic material, including one that’s somewhat reminiscent of Stephen Foster’s “Camptown races” [track-1, beginning at 03:12]. Rhythmically it’s a real powerhouse as the train speeds down the track. Then towards the end, Antill introduces a terrific “big tune,” bringing it to a triumphant conclusion.

Back in 1913 the composer attended one of the traditional song and dance ceremonies known as a Corroboree done by the Australian Aborigines. This gave him the idea for his homonymous ballet, which he completed in 1946. A “Down Under” Right of Spring, legendary conductor Eugene Goossens described it, and with good reason, as the first score of “really authentic Australian character.” In seven sections, it’s a brilliantly orchestrated, fascinating study in primitive motifs and wild exotic rhythms.

The opening “Welcome Ceremony” begins surreptitiously with a passage for double bassoon over clicking percussion that would have made Stravinsky sit up and take notice! Bird-like screeches from the strings and a number of colorful melodic and rhythmic riffs on a variety of instruments then erupt, eventually bringing this part to a primeval monolithic ending.

The next section, “Dance to the Evening Star,” is an ethereal will-o’-the wisp, which highlights the oboe, celesta and violin. “A Rain Dance” relies heavily on the marimba over scurrying strings and brass to conjure up a downpour with appropriate lightning and thunder from the percussion section. “The Spirit of the Wind” is a cyclone of sound featuring zephyrean winds and strings over a hypnotic rhythmic ostinato pounded out by the percussion. In “Rising Sun” prismatic orchestral effects that include curious percussive tics and pops make for a unique musical representation of daybreak. A lumbering bass clarinet over a pianissimo harp and string accompaniment conjures up images of some ungainly goanna crossing the outback in the next to last section, “The Morning Star.”

The finale, “Procession of the Totems and Closing Ceremony,” begins innocuously enough, but very quickly builds to an overwhelming climax. Here the brass and percussion sections (the latter even includes a bull-roarer) go bonkers, bringing this singular Aboriginal score to one of the most original and thrilling conclusions in all dance music. Oddly enough some of the massive chordal sequences towards the end may call to mind those in the crowd scenes of Puccini’s Turandot (1926).

Many will remember James Judd as the talented conductor who over a period of fourteen years turned the Florida Philharmonic into a world-class orchestra…After that he moved even further south and became Music Director (now Emeritus) of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, which he conducts on this disc. He’s obviously lost none of his panache, because you couldn’t ask for more exciting renditions of these highly complex scores. The New Zealanders respond to his every wish with performances that are exceptional from both the solo and ensemble standpoints.

The N.Z. recording engineers have given us an orchestral demonstration disc that will probably become a classic. It all begins with the microphone set-up, and theirs must have been exemplary because even with music of this scope they’ve managed to recreate a truly remarkable soundstage. While it’s wide and deep enough to encompass the enormous number of performers required, there’s a focus and clarity that present in exquisite detail all of the many solo parts. The balance between the numerous instrumental groups is ideal, and the orchestral timbre, totally natural over the entire frequency spectrum. Needless to say the dynamic range is staggering, but the level was set to perfection with no sign of any digital distress. Make sure you take this with you the next time you go looking for audio components. And by the way, while we’re on the subject of music from “Down Under,” you might want to investigate another Judd triumph, the symphonies of Douglas Lilburn (1915–2001) also on Naxos (8555862).




William Yeoman
Gramophone, September 2008

Terrific playing makes this energetic Australian ‘Rite’ the one to have

Australian composer John Antill’s 1946 ballet Corroboree has the reputation of being some kind of antipodean Rite of Spring, though Antill apparently didn’t know of Stravinsky’s ballet when he wrote his. Based on notes taken during an actual corroboree—an Aborigine ceremonial gathering—Antill attended in 1913, the work achieved instant success, if only in its concert suite form.

Sir Eugene Goossens and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra gave the first performance of that suite in the year of the ballet’s composition, and there’s a 1950 (when the complete ballet was first staged) recording by the same forces available on ABC Classics. But readers may be familiar with Goossens’s later account with the LSO on Everest.

Despite the many virtues of that disc, including the presence of Ginastera’s fabulous ballet suites Panambí and Estancia, this new recording by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra under James Judd wins hands down. It’s not just that it’s complete (seven movements as opposed to four); the energy and precision of the playing, captured in pristine digital sound, propel the music into a realm far beyond the residue of mere “white fella’s Dreaming” still present in the Goossens.

The colourful score, which culminates in the frankly mind-blowing “Procession of the Totems and Closing Ceremony”, has much of the lurid primitivism of Revueltas’s La noche de los Mayas, but without the kitsch (bullroarer aside); Antill’s Outback Overture, with which this disc opens, is by contrast a more conventional, if occasionally quirky, affair and more typical of the composer’s output. It, too, receives an excellent performance.



Giv Cornfield
The New Recordings, Cliffs Classics, August 2008

Harry Belock was an east coast engineer and electronics pioneer. He was also a serious music lover. In the early 1950s, he developed a stereo recording system (on 35mm film) in partnership with cosmetics maker Helen Neuschaefer, and proceeded to record and release a series of blockbuster orchestral long-playing albums with famous orchestras and conductors. The label was called Everest, and was an instant hit (original Everest LPs have nautrally become collectors’ items). One of those was a recording of Corroboree, and was a knockout! With all due respect to that historical recording (with Sir Eugene Goossens and the London Symphony) however, I doubt that it can be any better than this absolutely superb new digital one with James Judd and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.



Michael Southern
Australian Hi-Fi, August 2008

Corroboree was one of those defining moments in Australian music when John Antill scored an exuberant ballet drawing on notations he had made mostly in Botany Bay. Antill, however, was one of those great composers whom we adored during his early performances and then shortly afterwards ignored completely. Corroboree was a bit like that. It has rarely been recorded and copies of the recordings Goossens made in London are hard to get. So this release is welcome—not just to get the work back before the public, but also because it’s a rattling good performance from the underestimated Judd and this fine New Zealand orchestra.



James Manheim
Allmusic.com, August 2008

The music is undeniably colorful and kinetic, and interested buyers should note that earlier recordings of this work…The score’s strongest point is the orchestration, which includes such innovations as a bull-roarer in the wild and a quite absorbing climactic dance of the “Procession of the Totems and Closing Ceremony,” track 8. The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra under James Judd responds well to this aspect of the music, with broad, transparent performances that don’t falter in the smaller details. Recommended…




David Hurwitz
ClassicsToday.com, August 2008

It’s all great fun, a touch outrageous, even cartoonish (Antill has a certain overfondness for the ratchet), and it’s dazzlingly performed here by James Judd and the New Zealand Symphony.



David Denton
David's Review Corner, July 2008

Formal music education came late in the life of John Antill, one of the most influential musicians working in Australia through the central years of the 20th century. Born in Sydney of British parents in 1904, some of his manuscripts were shown to the Australian composer, Arthur Benjamin, who recommended he seek advanced studies with Alfred Hill, another of the nation’s most famous composers. A number of years later, he took that advice, but after graduating from the New South Wales State Conservatoruim, he became a jobbing musician as singer, conductor and orchestral musician. A series of chance events led him into radio, and he played a major part in shaping broadcast music in Australia during the 1930’s. His detractors, however, might say that his conservative nature was responsible for holding back modern music in the country. Though he worked in almost every genre, he is today remembered for just one work, the ballet Corroboree, which takes its title from a ritual Australian Aboriginal ceremony he had witnessed in 1913. In seven descriptive sections, it was completed in 1946 when Antill was 42, and almost all of the music that has survived came after that date. Stylistically it is mainstream West European tonal music overlaid with ethnic Australian sounds, and as a ballet it must be very colourful on stage. Heavily dependent on percussion effects, I suppose one could categorise it as Aaron Copland working in the Antipodes. Antill does work into the score many moments of quiet effects, but it will be the more outgoing primitive moments that remain in the memory. The disc is completed by An Outback Overture composed in 1954 for the occasion of a Royal visit. A mix of distant ceremonial trumpets and the high impact sounds of the brave new world of Australia are the ingredients for a pleasing score. The playing of the New Zealand Symphony, with James Judd conducting, is outstanding—full of detail, virtuosity and outgoing brilliance. The UK recording team obtains stunning audio quality.



Phil Carrick
Qantas The Australian Way Magazine, July 2008

The 1973 recording of this landmark work with the Sydney Symphony has rightly been regarded for years as a real audiophile demonstration disc. It was also, until now, the only recording, so this is a significant release. Indispensable.



Andrew Fraser
Music Australia Guide, June 2008

Australian composer, singer, musician and broadcaster John Antill’s ballet Corroboree was inspired by a corroboree he saw in 1913. Featuring indigenous melodies, rhythm sticks and didgeridoo impersonations, it’s accepted as being the first ‘western’ composition to use indigenous Australian elements. It sounds at times like Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring or even Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain. An Outback Overture is an inoffensive pastiche of folk melodies and dance rhythms reminiscent of Percy Grainger. James Judd and NZSO are strong advocates for these works.



Robinsons Book News, June 2008

Australian composer John Antill is best remembered for his exuberant, outstandingly successful and ever-popular ballet Corroboree. Drawing on material Antill notated in 1913 at a corroboree in Botany Bay and on his subsequent research on Aboriginal music, Corroboree is a landmark in Australian music history.



Greg Barns
The Mercury (Tasmania, Australia), May 2008

Australian composer John Antill is best remembered for his exuberant, outstandingly successful and ever-popular ballet Corroboree. Drawing on material Antill notated in 1913 at a corroboree in Botany Bay and on his subsequent research on Aboriginal music, Corroboree is a landmark in Australian music history.



Peter McCallum
Sydney Morning Herald, May 2008

You would be reluctant to suggest John Antill’s Corroboree for the citizenship test but culturally literate Australians ought to have had more opportunities to get to know this landmark work in recent years. This excellent recording of the complete ballet by James Judd and the New Zealand Symphony orchestra fills a big gap.

Championed by Eugene Goossens in 1946, it can be seen as a musical offshoot of the Jindyworobak movement of the 1930s and ’40s, which sought distinctive Australian literary identity in Aboriginal myth.

With precision and charm, this disc brings out its originality and its primitivist colouristics. The soft chords that close Dance To The Evening Star, the woodwind precision in A Rain Dance and the wispy strings in Spirit Of the Wind are captured with welcome clarity.



William Yeoman
The West Australian, January 2008

This is the first digital recording of an Australian classic. John Antill’s popular ballet is based on his memories of a corroboree he witnessed in 1913 and on material gathered during research on Australian indigenous music. The music still sounds as vibrant and colourful as ever, especially with such a committed performance as this by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. Included as an attractive filler is Antill’s Outback Overture. At Naxos’ bargain price, you can’t go wrong.






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7:25:06 AM, 28 December 2014
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