NO ORDINARY SUN
Hone Tuwhare's first volume of poems became justly celebrated within weeks of its first printing; it was received with joy and awe throughout the country and abroad. Some of the poems suggested incantation and memories in their rise and fall, of ancient waiata and karakia; they called for the voice of the poet himself, a return to the oral traditions of bardic delivery, such as is happening all round the world. The desire for more intimate contact with the poet than print makes possible is now world-wide; the poet is in the cafe, on the streets, on television and on records.
This note will talk therefore primarily of the poems spoken. Placed close to the microphone, as Mr Tuwhare is for most of his album, he reveals a voice of husky richness, the admirable and—one feels listening—perfect instrument for his images. Many poets reading, can disconcert; Eliot has never seemed to me his ideal interpreter, nor, nearer home, Allen Curnow or Louis Johnson. But set slightly farther off, for more declamatory pieces, Mr Tuwhare loses some richness and flexibility, and in the last poem Monologue, he attempts Scottish intonations for which he is not equipped. I note from the sleeve that ‘some of the poems were recorded at a reading given at the Birkenhead Public Library, during the North Shore Festival of the Arts’, which explains the cough at the end of one poem, and the somewhat easily elicited laughter during Monologue. I think audiences are a mistake; they may help the poet to achieve a performance, less easily secured in a studio, but they fragment the attention of the listener and can sometimes irritate. The listener is the ultimate participator, and he needs no colleagues. But the record is a fine achievement in the best of these beautiful incantatory poems, and their music is as sad as any ever made in this country. With what tender regret this fine poet notes the scarring of land, heart and mind that we have brought to his people! What insolent insects he makes of us, and how justly! This album also includes a waiata, of which I can judge little more, to my shame, than that his Maori is as majestic as his English; odd phrases leapt out of a musical fog at me like shafts of light. This disc is a noble performance, of a poet in action.
THE RETURN and ELEGY
To review The Return, I can think of no better way than to list the elements of what Douglas Lilburn calls a ‘sound image’. Distant traffic hum; faint wind; sea; wind; gulls; steam; hiss; tiny horns; hiccoughs; Mahi; muffled sob; Tane; kahikatea; kohekohe; tuatara, etc. A beautiful Maori voice (Mahi Potiki) softly intones a catalogue of Maori tree names and, at one point, an exquisite child's voice came through with ‘matai’ and ‘taraire’, reminding one of the beauty of the language we have so arrogantly supplanted and daily throttle. Let those who argue for anglicised Maori listen to this and reflect on the outrage we do every day to the most musical tongue in the world apart from Italian. Mr Lilburn establishes behind The Return, the last poem in Alistair Campbell's famous first volume, Mine Eyes Dazzle, a web of throbbing, delicate sound, never more than mezzoforte; the last images of a dying chief? The first of a Maori child, rocking in a flax cradle near a dull-glowing fire? Tim Eliott's fine voice was used for these same grave qualities; it stroked the images rather than propelled them; ‘gulls flung from the sea’, ‘the surf-loud beach’, ‘fires kindled in the wet sand’, ‘heads shrunken to a skull’. In the last lines of the poem, the sound image becomes explicit in ‘gods of the middle world/Their antique, bird-like chatter …’. The whole piece maintains the gravity of these lines, evoking a world of misty, mysterious shimmer.
The reverse side of the disc is occupied by Mr Lilburn's beautiful setting of Alistair Campbell's Elegy. I must here confess that it took me some time to accept the Elegy, in Lilburn's setting. I have always enormously admired the Sings Harry sequence,
for its artfully casual and laconic lilt; it seemed to me at first that Lilburn had played over the starkness of Campbell's imagery, unwarrantably extending its bounds to areas not implicit in the poem. I had the same objections to it that I still have to Stravinsky's setting of Dylan Thomas's Villanelle (‘Do not go gentle into that good night’). Careful listening to the record (Gerald Christeller, baritone, Margaret Nielsen, piano) convinces me that I was wrong; voice and piano beautifully accommodate the poem's icy utterance and fierce glares and the references to Lorca and duende on the sleeve are exact: the austerity of feeling is close to Spain, recalling this from, I think, Sacheverell Sitwell:
‘Abrupt as when there's slid
Its stiff gold blazing pall
From some black coffin lid.’
The performance by the artists is admirable; Miss Nielsen's playing is ringingly clear, and M [ unclear: ] Christeller's beautiful diction and grave reverence for the poems and music make it a memorable performance. Kiwi Records has added to its already distinguished reputation in pioneering New Zealand works by these two admirable releases.
reviewed by Alan Armstrong
This record features the Ohau Maori Youth Club of Rotorua. Although founded only in 1962 this club has gained quite an impressive reputation, having successes in prestige competitions at Tauranga, Ngaruawahia and Hamilton. At the invitation of the Toowoomba Rotary Club of Australia they performed some time ago in both Queensland and New South Wales. At the time of making the record they were holders of the Orakau Centennial Commemoration Cup.
Perhaps anticipating criticism of the record, the cover notes say, somewhat defensively, that ‘the true strength of any performing group can best be measured by its success in open competitions’. This is somewhat debatable, since some clubs make a specialty of competitions and others avoid them entirely, but the Ohau Club (and any others which record) will be heard and judged by a far wider audience through the strengths and weaknesses revealed on a recording than would be possible from any competition. Certainly a record critic can only go on what he hears on the disc and this record will unfortunately do little to enhance the club's doubtless well-deserved reputation. Overall, the record is very disappointing. There is a noticeable lack of light and shade and very little finesse or polish in any of the items.
Some criticism of specific items, which it is hoped are constructive, are as follows. ‘Toia Mai’ on Side 1 degenerates into a competition between the women doing an action song and the men doing a haka. This combination of different dance forms just may be acceptable on the stage but in a record it sounds a mess. The club should have made up its mind as to whether it wanted an action song or a haka and then performed one or the other. ‘Haruru Ana’ on Side 2 is a ragged and, at times, unmelodious duet to a hummed accompaniment by the whole group. The female singer keeps up her end of the duet but the male singer seems unsure of his words and falters badly in one or two places, to the point of tailing off altogether. There are also two haka on Side 2. It would be too harsh to say they were dispirited but the tempo is pedestrian and there is no bite when the performers come in after a call by the kaea. In ‘Whakarongo Mai’ (called on the record cover ‘Ringa Iwhiua’!) the performers seem uncertain of the words and trail away into rumblings at the end of several lines.
The attack in ‘Karu’ is often ragged. To guarantee crisp presentation on a recording, chants and choral pieces should be conducted. It is not of much consequence perhaps in a stage performance if someone is late starting a line, but with a recording there is no visual distraction and the ear hears more. Furthermore the microphone picks up errors which could never be detected otherwise. A record is played over and over and an error, once enshrined on a disc, keeps coming back to haunt every time it is replayed.
The record cover is most attractive but alas, the story on the other side is somewhat different. There are some ludicrous mis-spellings of the items, such as ‘Naruru
Ana', ‘Ere e Poi’, ‘Ringa Ipuia’, and none of the individual items are described. This seems indicative of a shoddy approach to the whole venture. Clubs must supply record companies with accurate spellings and descriptions of their items if they want the record in all its aspects to reflect credit on themselves.