The Australian composer Margaret Brandman (b1951) graduated from both the Sydney Conservatorium of Music and Sydney University. Her CV also includes performing (she plays in two tracks here), music education, publishing and ‘professional music arranging’. Curiously, given this last, the largest – and arguably most personal – work featured, the Firestorm Symphony (2001 09), is orchestrated under her supervision by Mark J Saliba (he also arranges Mark McEncroe’s music, featured on several issues from this same label).
The online notes tell us that the Firestorm Symphony records the composer’s feelings fighting severe forest fires in 1994 and again in 2001, yet the music fails to convey either the severity of the conflagrations or any sense of danger – John McCabe did this far more effectively in Fire at Durilgai (which scandalously still awaits a commercial recording). Brandman’s music feels rather like a backing score for a documentary, with nothing to offend the ear but neither to entrance it overmuch either. This same characteristic recurs in the other orchestral works here, the Lyric Fantasy, Love Brings Change – its subtitle of ‘Adagio for strings’ sets all the wrong expectations – and Undulations, all of them music of surpassing blandness.
Some of the smaller instrumental and chamber works do show greater character. Júcaro rhumba d’amor, for example, is a very attractive Latin-style violin-and-piano duo, while in The Eastern Spinebill and the Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos Herald a Blue Mountains Bush Fire she proves a keen depictor of Australian nature. The most impressive track is Autumn Rhapsody, played by the composer, where for once her tendency to rhapsodise is controlled to good effect. The performances throughout are well prepared and the sound is excellent. I just wish the music itself were more consistently engaging.