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Douglas Lilburn
A Song Of Islands
Aotearoa Overture · Forest
Orchestral Works
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
James Judd
Naxos 8.557697 - 2006


01. Aotearoa – Overture (1940) - 8:09
02. A Birthday Offering (1956) - 11:38
03. Drysdale Overture (1937, rev. 1986) - 10:34
04. Forest (Tone Poem) (1936) - 15:54
05. A Song Of Islands (Tone Poem) (1946) - 16:40
06. Festivale Overture (1939) - 8:20
07. Processional Fanfare (1961, rev. 1985) - 4:01

Playing Time: 75:16

Known as ‘the elder statesman of New Zealand classical music’, Douglas Lilburn was instrumental in establishing a genuinely vernacular voice. All the works on this recording portray New Zealand’s culture through an idiom instantly recognisable to listeners familiar with the music of Sibelius and Vaughan Williams (one of Lilburn’s teachers). Amongst the best known are Aotearoa (Land of the long white cloud), A Song of Islands, a tone poem which finds its parallel in New Zealand regional paintings, and Lilburn’s first major orchestral work, the Drysdale Overture, a beautifully evocative depiction of the isolated hill country farm where the composer spent his childhood. 


Penguin Guide, January 2009

James Judd and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra followed up their CD of Lilburn’s three symphonies with this collection of shorter works. Aotearoa is the Maori name for New Zealand and the engaging overture is worthy of its name. Forest is an early tone-poem with a brooding northern atmosphere, while the Drysdale Overture is pictorial in a more pastoral way. A Song of Islands is similarly rewarding, but perhaps the most inventive work is A Birthday Offering, written in 1956 as a tenth birthday tribute to the New Zealand orchestra, a kind of concerto for orchestra, none too predictable. The Processional Fanfare, three trumpets and organ, is an exuberant arrangement of Gaudeamus igitur, played with real flair; but then throughout the disc the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra are on their best form, which is considerable, while the Naxos recording is first rate.

American Record Guide, February 2007

What a magnificent release this is! Here are first recordings of the tone poem Forest and the Processional Fanfare plus second or third recordings of five other Lilburn pieces-and most of the other recordings seem no longer be available.

Douglas Lilburn (1915-2001) was a New Zealand composer who in some ways reminds me of Sibelius. His music is always tonal and romantic and is a real pleasure to hear. All of these works were originally written between 1936 and 1956 except the Processional Fanfare, which dates from 1961.

The program opens with the Aotearoa Overture, which is by now a classic and deserves to be known by every serious collector.

Forest is very much under Sibelius's influence. It won a competition sponsored by Percy Grainger and helped bring Lilburn to London, where he studied with Vaughan Williams. During that time he wrote the Drysdale Overture depicting his youthful life at Drysdale in the hill country of central North Island. His Festival Overture won a prize in 1939 and deals with the growth of New Zealand's nationhood.

After returning to New Zealand he wrote A Song of Islands in 1946 while living in Christchurch. It is a musical portrait of his beloved country.

He wrote A Birthday Offering in 1956 for the 10th anniversary of the founding of New Zealand's national orchestra, now the New Zealand Symphony. He then wrote the Processional Fanfare for Victoria University in Wellington, where he was a faculty member. It uses three trumpets in the style of Purcell as well as an organ.

This is a pure delight. James Judd conducts ably, and Naxos offers fine sound. Good notes.

John Grant
Limelight, January 2007

Douglas Lilburn, the doyen of New Zealand composers, shows the marked influence of his teacher Vaughan-Williams with overlays of Sibelius in this compilation of his earlier works. It's a perfect evocation of the dramatic sea and landscape of his home country. A Birthday Offering celebrated the 10th Anniversary of the NZSO in 1956 and there are overtones of Copland here in this delightfully playful and enjoyable work. The three overtures are all from the same stable and each has a distinctive Lilburn harmonic platform on which themes are built. They stem from his student days in London and from the dark days of the war so there's plenty of tension and drama in each work despite Drysdale being a remembrance of the composer's days on an isolated hill country farm in the North Island. There is a hint of nostalgia and remembrance in much of his music, none more so than in A Song of Islands an evocative tone poem inspired by a painting depicting a pioneer church, green fields, a vivid sea and snowcapped peaks. Forest is very Sibelius, painting a picture of autumn in South Canterbury and the Fanfare a fine arrangement of Gaudeamus Igitur in Purcellian mode with string harmonies. Marvellous music beautifully played and recorded.

Andrew Achenbach
Gramophone, December 2006

Here's an engaging follow-up to this team's admirable anthology devoted to the three Lilburn symphonies (Naxos, 8/02). Once again, I'm impressed by the ardour and sheen displayed by the NZSO, to say nothing of James Judd's elegant and purposeful direction. The engineering is beguilingly warm, rich and truthful. Certainly, readers with a fondness for, say, Sibelius, Barber or Vaughan Williams (under whom Lilburn studied at the RCM between 1937-40) should find plenty to savour.

Both the captivating 1940 overture Aotearoa (the Maori name for New Zealand) and 1946 tone­poem A Song of Islands pave the way for the first two symphonies (if you like what you hear, make haste to the gloriously lyrical and big-hearted Second). The other stand-out item is A Birthday Offering. Written in 1956 for the 10th anniversary of the NZSO, this score explores more astringent expression and affords each section of the orchestra ample opportunity for display. The music combines a whiff of Tippett with the open­air manner of Copland - and there are even intriguing pre-echoes of James MacMillan's "keening" string writing (try from 7'12 ").

Sibelius's kindly presence looms over the tone-poem Forest (an apprentice effort from 1936) and the following year's infinitely more assured Drysdale Overture, whose idyllic beauty reflects the unspoilt North Island landscape in and around the hill farm where Lilburn was raised. This well filled disc concludes with the bracing 1939 Festival Overture and Processional Fanfare, a 1961 arrangement for three trumpets and organ of the student song Gaudeamus igitur, which the composer reworked 24 years later for small orchestra. Lovely stuff - and a bargain of the first order.

Patrick C Waller
MusicWeb International, November 2006

Douglas Lilburn grew up on a farm on the North Island of New Zealand. In the late 1930s and early 1940s he studied at the Royal College of Music in London, where he was taught by Vaughan Williams. There may be a detectable debt to RVW in these orchestral works but the influence of Sibelius is much more pervasive. The disc opens with Aotearoa which translates as Land of the long white cloud and perhaps could have been called New Zealandia. My intention is not to disparage the composer but merely to suggest that, in this work in particular, and to some extent in every work on the disc save the last, listeners could be forgiven for thinking they had stumbled across some previously unknown Sibelius. In one place, starting just under two minutes into Forest, Lilburn actually seems to quote the slow movement of the Finnish master’s Fifth Symphony in the bass although Robert Hoskins suggests in the booklet that this was merely “trackingâ€. Forest was, in any case, the earliest of the works recorded here. The Drysdale Overture of the following year and then Aotearoa show considerable advances in originality and in handling of the orchestra. The programme of the overture relates to the remote location in which Lilburn spent his formative years and the music captures a faraway spirit. In between these two works comes A Birthday Offering – a substantial present for the orchestra playing on this disc when it celebrated its tenth birthday. The opening material draws from Copland but its treatment is highly original. At the end Lilburn alludes to Happy Birthday in quite a clever way and then ends the work without ceremony. A Song of the Islands is undoubtedly the masterpiece here – an atmospheric and deeply felt tone-poem inspired by art from the South Island. The Festival Overture is worth an airing and the concluding Processional Fanfare is well-crafted but, unsurprisingly, does not reach great heights of inspiration.

Overall, this is an excellent programme which those who enjoyed the previous Lilburn release from Naxos of the three symphonies (see review) will surely want to explore. They are unlikely to be disappointed with the music and nor should anyone who likes their Sibelius. The playing of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra is committed and refined, and James Judd does an excellent job of ensuring structural cohesion in the larger works. Fine recorded sound and good notes complete a highly desirable issue.

Rob Barnett
MusicWeb International, November 2006

For some reason I cannot fully fathom I mentally bracket the New Zealander Douglas Lilburn with the American Randall Thompson. Both wrote three symphonies and with the exception of Lilburn’s Third all are of an open-air tonal character alive with melody and rhythmic fibre. In fact the Second Symphonies of both composers represent their finest orchestral work. It's a pity that while Leonard Bernstein did record Randall Tho...
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