DON BANKS (1923-1980): Horn Trio, Prologue, Night Piece and Blues for Clarinet and Piano, 3 Studies for Cello and Piano, Sonatina for Piano in in C Sharp Minor, Violin Sonata, 5 North Country Folk Songs, Tirade for Mezzo-Soprano and Chamber Ensemble.

Catalogue Number: 08Y009

Label: Toccata Classics

Reference: TOCC 0591

Format: CD

Price: $18.98

Description: That these works are approachable, even attractive and appealing, may come as a surprise who have heard of Banks as Australia's "modernist", serial composer, who studied with Babbitt, Seiber, and Dallapiccola, and founded Australia's first electronic music studio. But he was an accomplished jazz musician in his youth, and retained an interest in jazz thereafter, and he was never a dogmatic dodecaphonist, when he used note rows at all, though he was fond of the formal devices applied to them, which he frequently used in an atonal but harmonically generous, or chromatically tonal idiom. All but the earliest work here were composed during his years in England, where, with limited performance opportunities for "modernist" composers, he earned a living by writing scores for Hammer horror films, like the decidedly more thorny and unrepentant modernist, Elizabeth Lutyens. The predominant impressions created by the 1962 Horn Trio are its tautly argued dramatic momentum and angular but memorable motifs and melodies. The first movement is thrillingly dramatic and fluently argued; the second is expressive and elegiac, and the third an energetic "hunting" finale, amusingly rendered in atonal terms but thoroughly acknowledging its classical antecedents; the virtuosic talent of Barry Tuckwell, for whom the work was written, is also celebrated. The folksong settings add piquant , slightly adventurous harmonies to the traditional, tonal melodies - which are not "modernized" in any way, and the result is very much a typical entry in the canon of English folksong settings for the concert stage. The 1968 clarinet work is very attractive and quite tonal, with echoes of the composer’s interest in jazz; the "Blues" is a real blues. The early (1954) Studies show the influence of Dallapiccola, meticulously structured (though only freely dodecaphonic) and late-Romantic/Expressionistic in mood. The three-movement Sonatina pre-dates Banks' official Op.1. It is unquestionably tonal, though highly chromatic, with a lively sonata form first movement featuring some jazzy syncopations and a beautiful neo-baroque second subject. The slow movement is highly chromatic and elegiac in mood, a slow fugato ending with a chorale, which seems to have given the composer the idea of including a similar, though more extended and austerely sombre section in the otherwise rapid-running and toughly energetic finale. The 1953 Violin Sonata, in a single taut 15-minute span, was given the Opus number 1 by the composer. Angular and dramatic, it is loosely but recognisably based on sonata form, and also divides clearly into three traditionally arranged movements, with a cadenza before the last. Tirade, of 1968, is a clever poetic protest by Australian poet Peter Porter (1929–2010), against the allegations of philistinism levelled against Australia in "sophisticated" Europe. The poem isn’t a joke; it is full of stunning imagery and genuine eloquence. Banks sets it partly as narration, mostly sung, sometimes in Sprechstimme with the accompaniment of a vast percussion battery with piano and harp. The use of timbral colour is superb, the evocation of the lonely vastness of the Australian Outback in the central movement especially telling, and the driven rhythmic wildness of the third thoroughly disturbing in its primitive fury. Texts included. Multiple (10) performers.

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