Cicadidae. Australian String Quartet

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Artist/s: Australian String Quartet. Dale Barltrop (violin), Francesca Hiew (violin), Stephen King (viola), Sharon Grigoryan (cello)
Category: Classical, New Music
Label: ABC Classics, digital
Reviewed by

“The music is all at once; fragile, symphonic, intimate, epic, tender, extrovert, meditative, active, intensely engaging, and is at all times imbued with a vivid sense of narrative.”

Cicadidae is a work by Australian composer Kate Moore, performed by the Australian String Quartet. It is accessible via digital platforms only, and exists as a single track release of 16.5 minutes duration. Despite the brevity of this offering, I believe Cicadidae to be one of the most outstanding recording releases of recent years.

Like many Australian compositions, Cicadidae evokes a portrait of the Australian landscape through sound. Moore’s beautiful program notes for the work explain: “When remembering the Australian landscape, the sound of cicadas fills the mind. Their presence is felt through their song. They are invisible to the eye. However, the music they make overwhelmingly floods the air on a summer afternoon”. This is a perfect description of the effect of this music, an invisible symphony that paints a picture that deeply resonates with geographical identity.

The music is all at once fragile, symphonic, intimate, epic, tender, extrovert, meditative, active, intensely engaging, and is at all times imbued with a vivid sense of narrative.

When listening one might draw parallels with the minimalist music of Philip Glass, Steve Reich and in particular, John Adams. Despite this seemingly borrowed stylistic framework, Moore’s music succeeds in embodying its own extremely original and refreshing take to the minimalist aesthetic. Her music is highly descriptive, evoking vivid imagery of a slowly morphing landscape through virtuosic, motoric repetition which punctuates a slowly unfurling harmonic trajectory.

From the very first note, it is unclear which instrument is playing which musical line. The quartet acts as a singular sonic unit, masterfully blended through the skill of the ASQ players. Both music and performance are filled with sonic intrigue. At times the sound is more akin to an organ, a revolving orb of glorious sound, punctuated by the rapid articulations of the players’ bows. Cicadidae is like a giant morphing drone. In my mind, this drone is depicting the immensity of Mother Nature with its inner dialogue describing the cicadas themselves.

A virtual round of applause must be given to Russell Thomson (engineer) and Alex Stinson (producer, editor + mastering) for a beautifully sculpted product.

Kate Moore

Kate Moore is one of Australia’s most outstanding compositional voices, a statement fully supported by her International career and vast discography. The Australian String Quartet are in fine form in this recording, giving a spellbinding performance of a work which I hope to experience in a live concert environment some day. Cicadidae is a totally excellent example of the extraordinary power of music to stimulate the senses and engage our creative imaginations. A fantastic work, masterfully performed by the Australian String Quartet.

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