Although this disc shows a Move catalogue number it is in fact a self-published CD put out by the Southern Cross Philharmonia, and the programming reflects the orchestra’s policy of presenting Australian works in the context of mainstream repertoire, in this case youthful works by Wolf-Ferrari (the Serenade) and Britten (Simple Symphony), closing with Grieg’s famous Holberg Suite, conducted by the orchestra’s eminent co-founder Gerald Gentry. Between these string orchestra standards are four very different Australian works, with a major focus on Melbourne: Handel in the Strand by the redoubtable Percy Grainger, featuring pianist Amir Farid in this perky performance; Lighthouse, a brief and strangely cool homage to ‘Weary’ Dunlop by local legend George Dreyfus; and the beautifully atmospheric Arioso in Alto (Skybridge ) by largely forgotten Melbourne son Roger Rooman. I was particularly struck by the Rooman work; I know the larger-scale Prelude, Aria and Sinfonia, of which the Arioso is a re-worked extract, from an older Vienna Modern Masters CD (VMM3014), and was reminded that no Australian orchestra has ever tackled this substantial and challenging score complete. It is sad but unsurprising that a composer of the ambition and talent of Rooman was unable to make headway in the Australian music world of his time (he died in 1996); perhaps the Southern Cross Philharmonia’s advocacy can garner his work some posthumous respect and attention. Rounding out the CD is a short, pensive work by Maltese-born Melburnian Jesmond Grixti.
I’m sure that those who attended the concerts, all recorded between 2008 and 2010 at the Melba Hall in Melbourne University, will enjoy revisiting the experience of hearing this well-schooled string orchestra live, and forgive the hall’s slightly boomy and claustrophobic acoustic as captured in the sound recordings by Move’s Martin Wright. Those of us who weren’t present can nonetheless enjoy the well-balanced program as a concert in its own right.