I first heard John Antill’s Corroboree on the car radio whilst driving in the beautiful East Lothian countryside. In spite of the disparity between my pastoral surroundings and the vibrant ‘lurid primitivism’ of the music, I found that this score was challenging, captivating and quite frankly a masterpiece. I could not understand then, nor can I now, how this music is virtually unknown: it seems unbelievable that the ballet itself is not in the repertoire of the major companies.
Antill based his music on a live Corroboree which he had witnessed as a child at Botany Bay. He made subsequent researches into Aboriginal music over many years, finally producing his score in 1944. The present work was first heard in a concert version conducted by Eugene Goossens two years later. It was first danced as a complete ballet on 3 July 1950 with the composer conducting the Sydney Symphony Orchestra with the National Theatre Ballet.
There is a rival version of Corroboree which demands our attention: James Judd conducting the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra on Naxos 8.570241. This has the advantage of being the complete score of the ballet, with two additional movements, ‘Spirit of the Wind’ and ‘Rising Sun’. Additionally, cuts made to the other movements are restored. In fact, Judd’s reading nearly doubles the length of the work. Also included on this Naxos disc is Anthill’s Outback Overture. Yet the privilege to own Sir Eugene Goossens’ interpretation of this music is too good to miss. It succeeds in balancing a thoughtful reading of the many quieter passages with the pulsating, primitive energy of the driven movements that leaves the listener exhausted and not a little scared at the end of the ‘Procession of the Totems’. Certainly, Goossens account makes it clear why Corroboree was regarded as a ‘defining’ moment in the self-awareness of Australian music. It is a conceit to categorise this music as an Australian Rite of Spring – Antill has actually accurately captured the ‘essence’ of a real live Corroboree, even if he uses ‘Western’ musical syntax to express it. Yet, for the listener who has not heard the work, the Stravinsky allusion is a good rule of thumb.
The liner notes for Corroboree are extensive, giving a detailed plot of the ballet as well as the composer’s own analysis of the recorded movements.
I do not know much about the Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera or his music. However, based on this present performance of the Panambi ballet suite, it is hard not to be seriously impressed. Especially when one realises that this score is his Op.1! Everest has presented the Suite which represents about a quarter of the entire ballet.
The composer was only twenty years old when he wrote Panambi which is based on a South American Indian legend. The Suite was first heard on 27 November 1937 in Buenos Aires. The entire ballet was performed some three years later.
The suite reveals the composer’s skill at synthesising a variety of musical styles, including impressionism in ‘Moonlight on the Parana’ and a ‘sophisticated primitivism’ in the ‘Dance of the Warriors’ and the ‘Invocation of the Powerful Spirits’. This present recording by Sir Eugene Goossens is a perfect introduction to Ginastera’s stunning ballet score: for those who wish to hear the entire 40 minute work, it is available on Naxos 8.557582 with Gisele Ben-Dor conducting the London Symphony Orchestra.
Alberto Ginastera is one of a long line of Latin American composers including Villa Lobos from Brazil and the Mexicans Carlos Chavez and Silvestre Reveultas who demand our attention, yet are surprisingly rarely heard in the United Kingdom.
The listener must not be concerned with the apparent lack of minutes on this disc: it is a budget CD selling at under £6. The production is exactly as it was in 1958. Apart from the unavoidable fact that these are ballet suites and not the entire works, there is nothing I can fault in this exciting re-release from Everest. The sound is unbelievable for nearly sixty years of age, Sir Eugene’s conducting is masterly and the orchestral playing of these exacting works is superb.
John ANTILL (1904-1986) Corroboree: Suite from the Ballet (1946)
Alberto GINASTERA (1916-1983) Panambi- Ballet Suite Op.1 (1934-7)
London Symphony Orchestra/Sir Eugene Goossens
Rec. Walthamstow Assembly Hall, London August 1958
EVEREST SDBR 3003
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published.