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Antill: Corroboree, Outback Overture

James Judd & New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

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Customer Reviews

Lovely, but...

... when the itunes sample is filled with compression errors, clicks and pops, you are throwing your money away. Unfortunately, iTunes has never, to my knowledge, corrected a sound issue - at least not any of those I have reported.

At last....

This is a recording that is long overdue for a neglected composer and one of his best works. Antill is viritually unknown outside of Oceania and his most famous work, Corroboree, has only been recorded twice in the last sixty years (and only one of those recordings contained all the music). Unfortunately, although this release goes a long way toward correcting this imbalance, this rendition has its own problems which make this a sort of bittersweet confection.

First of all, this recording is the "complete" ballet - not the strange, truncated version released back in the 1950s. I have a copy of the score and I can assure you that this is not an easy work to play even for professionals. Antill makes some serious demands of the players - some of which are on the edge of being techinically impossible (for example, the trumpet glissandos in the "Spirit of the Wind" movement cannot be played as written and are only approximated in all the recordings). Secondly, for those not familiar with it, the Corroboree is an Australian Aboriginal dance ritual, conducted after nightfall amid the glow of campfires. A number of otherwise intelligent music critics have often dismissed this work as a sort of kitchsy "Rite of Spring" but Antill actually attended a "real" Corroborree (probably several) and in comparing his music with field recordings he has actually come very close to the real thing. There really isn't anything quite like this music and it is a shame it is not played more often. It would make an awesome video.

Unfortunately, this recording is flawed by some rather odd performance abberations which seem to indicate the music was recorded in a single take - not something you would expect from a professional orchestra or recording label. For one thing, the tempo indications are blithely ignored - the first movement actually is marked at 112 beats per minute (with some sudden changes to 96 in places) but the entire thing is taken at about 120 or a little faster. This certainly gives the music a breathless feeling but it rather destroys the original intent. There is a note on the score that actually states "strict tempo throughout" so ignoring this seems a bit presumptuous on the conductor's part.

This isn't the only anomaly. The bass drum part is marked "very loose vellum" whereas in the recording the vellum seems to be stretched to the breaking point. The contrabassoon solo is supposed to start on a triple-low "A" (which can only be done on specialized models) - something the other two recordings handled with ease but the performer here chooses to play it an octave higher - a bit jarring. There are many instances where mutes are specified for the trumpet parts and the performers play it without mutes (which, in some cases, seriously impacts the effect). Very few of the dynamic markings are followed (in fact the entire recording suffers from some serious mixing-console abuse) and there are several places where the intonation completely breaks down.

On the other hand, the instrumentation is adhered to (for the most part). They do use a real "bull-roarer" and actually play it as indicated (very striking in the last movement). The overall "sound" of the music is much clearer than the other recordings and, for all the flaws, it comes across as a much stronger piece of music. (Also, to be fair, the other recording of the complete ballet had several missed entries which are corrected in this one - this recording may not be "perfect" but no perfect recordings exist of this piece).

As far as I am concerned, this is a must-have for any Antill devotee - when all of its good and bad points are put together it comes out as well worth the price. It is a shame, however, that more orchestras don't try performing or recording this. It deserves much more listening than it has been given so far.

Antill: Corroboree, Outback Overture, James Judd
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