Women of Note: Celebrating Australian Composers, Vol. 4

Various artists

Women of Note: Celebrating Australian Composers, Vol. 4
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Women of Note: Celebrating Australian Composers, Vol. 4

Various artists

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

Released to coincide with International Women’s Day (8 March), this album begins and ends with works by Indigenous composers that focus on the importance of connection, communication and deep listening: Lou Bennett’s Baiyan Woka and Brenda Gifford’s Djana, drawing on the composers' respective Yorta Yorta and Yuin heritages.

From the Flinders Quartet comes a new, world premiere recording of Margaret Sutherland’s 1956 Quartet for Cor Anglais and String Trio. This highly expressive and rhythmically playful work was written in a period of new-found artistic freedom, in the years following her divorce from her psychiatrist husband who believed that her claim to be a serious composer was evidence of mental illness. Fellow Australian music pioneer Miriam Hyde appears as the soloist in a landmark 1975 recording of her own Second Piano Concerto, a richly Romantic work composed during her student years in London and premiered at the time by no less than the London Symphony Orchestra.

The tracklist then turns to music written within the last few years, demonstrating the talent and vision of Australia’s living female composers. In “Fuglar himins” (Birds of Heaven), Rósalind Page uses the soprano saxophone to evoke the wild beauty of the gyrfalcon, gliding over the magnificent fjords of Iceland, where she has worked and travelled extensively. Award-winning jazz artist Andrea Keller uses fluctuating states of expansion and contraction, celebration and darkness, to express a sense of inner struggle and a search for peace in I Surrender, inspired by experiences of extended pandemic lockdown in Melbourne. And the Fire Dances suite brings together eight women composers from across all of Australia’s states and territories to reflect on the impact of 2020’s devastating bushfires.

Review

I have had men in my life comment, ‘surely everything’s equal now’, but when a new release album has a world-premiere recording of an important 1956 piece by a prominent female composer, it reminds me that, no, not everything is equal yet. It emphasises how important series such as these Women of Note albums are to the wider world of music-making.

Released to coincide with International Women’s Day on 8 March, this album showcases how diverse and, not to put too fine a point on it, epic Australian women composers are right here and now. There are 14 different women featured on this album, including First Nations composers Brenda Gifford and Lou Bennett and a 1975 recording of Miriam Hyde as soloist in her Second Piano Concerto.

In my opinion, the centrepiece is the Flinders Quartet’s recent world premiere recording of Margaret Sutherland’s 1956 Quartet for Cor Anglais and Strings. How this piece has been overlooked by history I’ll never know, but at least we have a stunning recording now. I also love the inclusion of jazz composer Andrea Keller and the piece ‘Birds of Heaven’ by Rosalind Page to show the true expansive abilities of many different women. What a treat this album is, and what an important project to continue.


Kate Rockstrom is a friend of Readings.

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