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Margaret Sutherland The Young Kabbarli
Genty Stevens/Dean Patterson/cond Patrick Thomas

Gillian Whitehead Hotspur
Anthea Moller/conductor Grahame Hair

Anthology of Australian Music on Disc, Series IV CSM 32

I learnt of the existence of this important CD of antipodean opera, which was sent for review through correspondence following up an article in the Financial Times about Underrated Women of Note, prompted by the centenary of the British composer Elizabeth Maconchy, who "had she been either a man or a writer or a visual artist, surely would be more of a household name". This disc from Australia comprises a notable recording of an opera by Margaret Sutherland (1897-1984) together with a monodrama of 1981 by New Zealand born Gillian Whitehead.

Margaret Sutherland, we learn, pioneered new music, challenging the prejudice against women composers, and "but for her - - it is unlikely that Australia would have produced such a proliferation of women composers". Her The Young Kabbarli is a concise and moving opera on the theme of Aboriginal emancipation from the Trappists' determination that "They must be brought to God - our God!".

Spare and succinct, making me think of Holst and his Savitri, it features didjeridu with chamber orchestra. Recorded excellently in 1973, it is well worth hearing and merits reviving for its ever topical theme.

Gillian Karawe Whitehead has homes in Australia and New Zealand and is claimed by both countries.

She composed her Hotspur in collaboration with poet Fleur Adcock whilst both were Fellows at Newcastle University in the 1970s. It was staged by Gemini/Peter Weigold in Durham 'with decorative banners commissioned by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Wellington'. It is a monodrama about skirmishes in the borderlands, a lament sung by the widow of Henry Percy, "rebel against the crown", who "put one king upon the throne, turned against him, sought to make a king of my brother's son - kings go up and kings go down...".

Finely crafted evocative music, strong as the theme demanded, the testing solo part sung impressively by Anthea Moller; it would suit Claire Booth to a tee and she'd relish it. I hope to explore further Gillian Whitehead, opera composer.

Peter Grahame Woolf

Read also about Gillian Whitehead's The virgin and the nightingale from the same source, and two operas by Elisabeth Maconchy revived for her centenary last year [Editor]