Women of Note: A Century of Australian Composers, Volume 2

Various Artists

Women of Note: A Century of Australian Composers, Volume 2
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Women of Note: A Century of Australian Composers, Volume 2

Various Artists

Building on the success of our first Women of Note album last year, ABC Classic is thrilled to be releasing the second volume in our now annual celebration of Australia’s female composers.

This 2CD album, released in time for International Women’s Day (8 March), begins with music from pioneers of Australia’s musical heritage: Margaret Sutherland, Miriam Hyde, Dulcie Holland, and introducing Linda Phillips, whose work as a critic and as chief adjudicator of the prestigious Sun Aria competition across three decades helped to shape this country’s musical landscape, but whose compositions - prized by such artists as Dame Joan Sutherland - have been unjustly neglected in Australia’s recorded music catalogue. Her quartet Exaltation, a swirling mixture of melancholy and exuberance, shows the composer exploring the musical legacy of her family’s Jewish background.

Five other world premiere recordings feature on the album. Multiple award-winning composer Mary Finsterer is represented by a live concert recording of her double bass concerto Lake Ice, an exploration of music as storytelling and as journey, guided by the beautiful yet rarely heard sonorities of the bass as solo instrument. From Miriama Young we have a re-imagination of the historical soundworld of Sydney Harbour in Time and Tide, blending field recordings ancient and modern with brass and percussion instruments. We are also delighted to be presenting the first commercial recording of music by rising star Ella Macens: her soaring orchestral work The Space Between Stars.

The other two world premiere recordings are by Indigenous Australian composers. From Yorta Yorta woman, opera singer, composer and educator Deborah Cheetham comes Eumeralla, a war requiem for peace: a powerful and poignant response to the resistance war fought by the Gunditjmara people in southwest Victoria and to the troubled spirits of all who fell in those battles, on both sides. And Yuwaalaraay composer Nardi Simpson gives us Wilga’s Last Dance, honouring the only traditional melody from her people that was ever recorded.

Moya Henderson takes us to the Tasmanian wilderness with her transcendent string quartet Kudikynah Cave, evoking moments of ecstatic stillness during the raft journey to the cave’s entrance, along the Franklin River. Katia Tiutiunnik draws inspiration from the moment a mother first feels her baby move inside her womb for her flute and piano duet The Quickening. Katy Abbott, always alert to the quirks and foibles of human existence, applies wit and humour to the multiple meanings of the word Punch in a work for brass ensemble. Amanda Cole marries marimba and cowbells in her energetic percussion solo Glocken Blocken. Rachel Bruerville (Dancing on Tiptoes) and Natalie Nicolas (We Won’t Let You Down) worked with teenagers in hospital mental health wards to create music of joy and profound optimism. And Elena Kats-Chernin’s beloved Eliza Aria is presented in its original version for quizzical soprano solo over delicately plucked strings.


To coincide with International Women’s Day 2020, ABC Classic has released Volume 2 in the Women of Note series, featuring another impressive program of fabulous music by composers both famous and lesserknown. Volume 1, which contained well-known favourites such as Peggy Glanville-Hicks’s Etruscan Concerto, was a tremendously enjoyable musical feast. ABC Classic saved some goodies for Volume 2, such as the Eliza Aria from Elena Kats-Chernin’s Wild Swans concert suite, with which many will be familiar.

This definitive recording features the angelic voice of none other than Jane Sheldon, whose pitch and rhythmic accuracy is a lesson in beautiful singing. Miriam Hyde’s Village Fair is a bit of a romp, bringing to mind another Australian classic – Danish Folk-Music Suite by Percy Grainger. Any collection of Australian music would be incomplete without something by Margaret Sutherland, and presented here is her symphonic poem Haunted Hills, which is as epic and creepy as the name suggests.

A highlight is Deborah Cheetham’s moving ‘Eumerella: A War Requiem for Peace’, and should be compulsory listening for all Australians. Sung entirely in ancient Gunditjmara dialects, the requiem pays tribute to those lost in the bloody and brutal Eumeralla Resistance War. Cheetham surely is a national living treasure, and hers is a vital voice in the Australian classical music landscape.

Nardi Simpson’s Wilga’s Last Dance for symphonic wind rounds out the collection – in this short but affecting piece, Simpson has attempted to recreate the only surviving traditional Yuwaalaraay melody, and in so doing demonstrates the remarkable diversity of work presented on Women of Note.

Unfortunately male conductors are still overrepresented here – classical music seems to be very slowly catching up with the rest of the world when it comes to gender equality across the board. Perhaps next year – if we’re lucky – Volume 3 might redress the balance.

Alexandra Mathew is a classical music specialist at Readings Carlton.

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