A new collection of the music of New Zealand composer David Farquhar (1928-2007), curated by Jack Body, makes a strong play for the eye. Rattle Records has come up with a bold, black-and-white cover; not until late in the booklet does one realise that the image is a detail from one of Toss Woollaston's powerful Erua portraits of the early 1960s.
The title of the album, Ring Round the Moon, will remind some of Farquhar's most popular composition: his suite of dances written for the 1953 New Zealand Players' production of Jean Anouilh's play.
However, the composer's own 1992 transcription of this music for violin and piano is a curiosity rather than a necessity, with Martin Riseley and Jian Liu given the thankless task of competing with familiar and fuller orchestrations of these pieces.
More intriguing are the 1967 Three Piece for Violin and Piano, flirting with the avant-garderies of the day, most engaging in the plucked violin and inside-the-piano rustlings of the second piece.
Jian Liu opens the collection with a stunning 1950 Piano Sonatina, a student composition, immaculately crafted and crafty in its wit; Liu effortlessly adds the requisite fluency and sheen as he does with eleven short pieces from Black, White and Coloured.
These are the very best of Farquhar. Some are original, such as the buoyant Song; more importantly, the composer is able to flaunt the keen ear and sensitivity that made him a master of pastiche.
Various "tributes" range from a grafting of Mahler Symphony and Schubert Sonata to an effortless ramble around Au Clair de la Lune and a deviously hip take on Gershwin's I Got Rhythm.
David Farquhar was one of our finest songwriters, but a set of Swan Songs from his later years lacks the freshness of his best work. Jenny Wollerman and guitarist Jane Curry are assiduous in their musicianship, beautifully captured by producer Wayne Laird, but recurring re-writes of Orlando Gibbons' The Silver Swan wear out their welcome and an alternative setting of The Roasted Swan, so familiar from Orff's Carmina Burana, just seems odd.
Verdict: A singular Kiwi composer is paid stylish tribute with song, dance and wit.