Narratives and Detours: music by Australian composers

Jeanell Carrigan, piano
Classical, New Music
Australian Music Centre VAST031.2
Reviewed by , June 1st, 2014

  This disc presents music by ten Australian composers, six of whom I had heard; but there are so many young, emerging composers that it is sometimes hard to keep track. They illustrate widely divergent compositional styles; the longest offering is that of the disc’s title (11’43”); the others range from aphoristic utterances to more extended pieces.

   Mark Grandison’s Narratives and Detours begins arrestingly with Messiaen-like chords pitted against a unisonal running figure, leading to more varied textures and contrasted pacing and moods. The piece is basically tonal but conveys an individual voice at work, for me the highlight of the disc together with the Butterley piece.

Composer Brendan Collins

Composer Brendan Collins

   Stephen Yates’s Sea, Air and a Cloud or Two… is a lyrical nature-piece featuring limpid textures. Its rather naïve character is beguilingly effective, with the ability to hold the listener’s attention throughout.

   The puzzle here is David Hush’s two-movement Sonata. The initial movement opens with bare left-hand fourths and fifths set against a single right-hand line, and much of the piece is somewhat repetitive, so that the musical material and sound-world seem restricted in scope and expressiveness.

   A change of mood comes with Insect Dance by Brendan Collins, a brief, up-tempo vignette which deftly and humorously captures the character of its subject.

   Phillip Wilcher’s Scherzo-Ballade could almost have been written in the 19th century, such is the old-fashioned nature of its language. Its makes (no doubt deliberate) references to Chopin’s C sharp minor Scherzo.

Phillip Wilcher

Phillip Wilcher

   There is a refreshing vitality and aural acuity in Chris Williams’s Two Episodes. The first, sub-titled Constellation, is a rapid, scintillating moto perpetuo, while the ruminative Rubric, beginning and ending in the bass register, frequently employs minor seconds and, particularly, major sevenths, reminiscent of the Bartók piece of that name from Mikrokosmos. In the central section, the music rises in pitch and intensity, thus making an impressive arc-like structure overall.

   The versatile style of Nigel Sabin comes across in his appealing, intriguingly-named A faint qualm, as of green April. This lyrical, quasi-impressionistic mood-painting effectively explores the whole range of the instrument, with cool sonorities and long washes of pedal.

   The best-known composer represented is Nigel Butterley, whose evocative  Grevillea imaginatively illustrates the “brittle, spiky” appearance of the plant. It utilises off-beat accents, changing rhythmic patterns and frequent trills and tremolos.

   Chilean-born Daniel Rojas’s Three Pieces are contrasted character-pieces which aim to depict the subjects named in their titles: Prelude: Silent Mourning, The Snake Catcher: A Lively Dream and Chorale: Between the Inner Sanctum. This is music of colour and dramatic intensity, with a tonally-based propensity.

   In Remembering Illawarra, John Peterson has produced five pieces representing his impressions of the Illawarra region of New South Wales. They are mood-pictures, almost programmatic in character; they are certainly evocative reflections of various aspects of nature which obviously attract the composer’s sensibilities.

   Overall, this is an enterprising disc, well performed and packaged, with informative program notes and repertoire diversity. The recorded sound is ambient (sometimes a little excessively so), and the CD typifies Jeanell Carrigan’s continuing dedication to the cause of Australian music.

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