Pages from a secret journal: Orchestral Works by Richard Mills Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Richard Mills ABC Classics 476 4217

This stunning 2 CD set captures the passion of one of Australia’s very finest composers, Richard Mills as he conducts the MSO in four of his major orchestral works from the last 22 years. Distinguished for his operatic output (Batavia, Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, and Love of the Nightingale), Mills’s engagement of the listener through dramatic and expressive musical statements, reinforced by a brilliant imagination in using orchestral tone colour, demands that he is someone with whom every music educator should be acquainted.

His voice is strong, deliberate and highly thoughtful as he responds (but does not imitate) the transition from the dry season to the wet of a North Queensland summer in Bamaga Diptych, contrasting the rain dances and sparkling qualities with the darkness that is apparent in Tenebrae, a very beautiful orchestral meditation. Coming from within his Catholic faith, the Christian ritual of extinguishing candles is given musical poignancy here. It is also a wonderful testament to two leading figures in Australian music: Stuart Challender and Mary Valentine.

Nature is an important influence in the mind of Mills, as seen in the way he structures Pages from a Secret Journal. In seven sections, he creates surprising effects and shows constant transformation and freedom of melodic gesture to reflect what happens in nature, ending in a pulsating and highly exciting finish.

In the latest work in this set, Symphony of Nature (commissioned by The Australian Ballet in 2008), Mills exploits all the symphonic combinations and wondrous sounds possible through four movements: The Nocturnal Power of Trees; Rustling / Ghost Games / Night Creatures; Astral Journey of Love – Linked Souls; and Archangels’ Trumpet Song for the Majesty of Clouds in Moonlight. The names of each movement give a sense of the vibrancy of the imagination at work in this music.

Realising his own music whilst conducting the MSO must be an incredible experience for any composer. But also for the orchestra, it must realise that it is at the very edge of creation working in such a way. The MSO’s brilliant technical skill and understanding of Mills’s work make these recordings powerful and enduring landmarks in Australian music.

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