You certainly couldn’t wish for a better send-off. Though sadly passing away earlier this year, Peter Sculthorpe is celebrated in a wonderful way on this recording. Over the course of his entire career, Sculthorpe always returned to the piano, his own instrument. Before his death, he closely supervised the recording of this superb two-disc set, and specifically chose pianist Tamara-Anna Cislowska as the ideal proponent of his works.

The program is organised chronologically, beginning with a set of short works written at the age of just 15. For the first half of the first disc or thereabouts, we’re comfortably in a sort of Debussy-esque territory that many wouldn’t quickly associate with Sculthorpe. These early works have rather delightfully evocative titles such as Falling Leaves, Prelude to a Puppet Show, and a slumbering Siesta. However, while these pieces (mostly written before he turned 20) are very beautiful, his unique compositional voice was yet to emerge.

“Koto Music includes a sound that resembles nothing so much as a blues-style slide guitar”

By the time we’ve arrived at the mid-1950s with the Sonatina, his familiar stylistic approaches have begun to make an appearance, and with the fully-fledged Sonata of 1963, we’ve come to the broad, expansive harmonies that reflect the Australian outback so well. At the time, Sculthorpe’s lifelong interest in the music of other cultures was directed towards the music of Japan, so we have the fascinating Koto Music I and II. These rarely-recorded works and Landscape explore remarkable soundscapes, with Landscape featuring enormous, gong-like sounds paired with clickings, and Koto Music including a sound that resembles nothing so much as a blues-style slide guitar.

Disc two is where Sculthorpe’s interest in Aboriginal music comes to the forefront, with Djilile opening the disc. Evocatively played, the now-familiar melody is a real highlight. Simori, originally for flute and
guitar, is given a whirling, pulsing performance here. There’s also The Rose Bay Quadrilles, an arrangement of music by William Stanley that comes as a surprise after the brooding nature of some of the other works. They’re charming, though in a totally different style to everything else on the recording.

The set closes with the extensive Riverina Dreaming, a 20-minute suite written for Michael Kieran Harvey. It’s calmly beautiful in many places, and serves as a fitting way to close this set of pieces, and is a wonderful way to summarise the career of a musician who showed us that Australian music could compete on the world stage.

Contribute to Limelight and support independent arts journalism.