Limelight

It testifies to this music’s sheer obscurity that the most prominent name here belongs to Australia’s own Miriam Hyde, who, far from being a mere keyboard miniaturist, brought substantial panache to larger forms. Her early, single-movement Fantasy-Trio (1933) suggests a Brahms-Elgar collaboration, not quite worthy of either master’s best writing, but eminently suited to revival.

The other three composers are English (William Hurlstone), French (Max d’Ollone), and Swedish (Dag Wiren). Hurlstone – one of Stanford’s favourite pupils – died in 1906, aged just 30. No tentativeness mars his half-hour, Trio in G. To (again) Brahms’ and Elgar’s influences, he adds a faculty for individual caprice. Goodness knows what he might have achieved with a decent lifespan.

D’Ollone (1875-1959), a Prix de Rome winner, studied with Massenet. His 1920 trio oscillates between Franckian strenuousness and Ravelian sensuality, implying in the process that these two idioms unexpectedly overlap. Diffuse beside the Hurlstone – where not a phrase is wasted – it possesses compensatory inventive charm. Has an Limelight reader encountered one of d’Ollone’s eight (!) operas?

As for Wiren (1905-86); several million British householders discovered his output when BBC television – then black-and-white – made a sardonic little string-orchestra march by him into a signature tune. “Sardonic” also describes the present composition (1932, four movements), where the crisp taste of Hindemithian gin-and-bitters will cleanse palates after the refined nostalgia elsewhere.

Consistently expert performances, from three Australia-based musicians, do everything full justice. The recorded sound – the venue: Monash University’s music department – is clean, if a bit too dry. A delightfully instructive release all the same. ****

—R.J. Stove