“Prepare to be both charmed and challenged by an alluring mix of the 18th and 21st centuries, where baroque ornamentations within contemporary sounds will delight the ear and bring a smile to the lips.”
Felicity Wilcox has had a stellar career thus far, having received many awards, commissions and broadcasts, in Australia and internationally. Amongst multiple other activities, she has composed sound tracks for over 60 screen productions, was the first woman to be nominated for an AACTA (AFI) award and was assistant music director for the Paralympic Games Opening in Sydney 2000. She is currently senior lecturer in music and sound design at the University of Technology Sydney, passing on her many skills to the next generation. A selection of her chamber works from years 2014-18, recorded in different locations, were assembled together for this CD.
A solo for bass clarinet People of this Place, a stunning exposé of the range of possibilities of this magnificent instrument, opens the program. The composer writes: “It is a loving expression of my sense of shared place, reflecting the echoes of nature and the blend of lives lived in this beautiful place of birds, bush, grasses, sandstone and sea.” These words invite an imaginative interpretation by the listener. From the striking opening, through soft rustlings and glorious melodic runs, a sound world of the Australian bush emerges – the decorative tones of songbirds, little birds chattering to each other, frogs, low growls – could this be a didgeridoo, or a wombat? A delicious element of humour creeps in now and then, alongside an awareness of the composer’s deep connection with nature and the first inhabitants of this land. From mellifluous upper register to multiphonics to that wondrously resonant bass, the skills of virtuoso Jason Noble are on full display in this absorbing work.
The octet Uncovered Ground , written in 2015, juxtaposes the baroque strings of Ironwood (violin, viola, cello) with the contemporary Ensemble Offspring (flute, violin, bass clarinet, percussion and piano). The work opens with hymn-like chords, subtly interrupted by more modern sounds to introduce the wonderful combination of ideas that make this piece. Expressive baroque-style sections contrast with energetic passages in an innovative blend of old and new, for example, an elegant progression, almost sarabande-like, might be interrupted by percussion. Baroque ornamentations immediately take the listener back to that era, whilst a lively section from the modern group will keep you in the present, or the future. A soft, eloquent passage concludes this fascinating work. Excellent performances all round.
A central idea in this CD and consolidating its baroque-ish sound is the composer’s inspiration from the music of Marin Marais, notably his Suite d’un goût étranger (Suite with a foreign flavour), written in 1717 for viola da gamba and continuo. Wilcox changes the name to Gouttes d’un sang étranger (Drops of foreign blood), presenting it here, not as a suite but as several selected sections interspersed with other, contrasting works. In a flash of genius, Wilcox takes Marais’ fast movement Tambourin and slows it right down, using the mellow tones of the clarinet, baroque cello and rolling waves of melody to create a soulful lament. Immediately following is Le Tourbillon (Tornado), in two versions: the first is scored for viola da gamba (Anthea Cottee) and tenor saxophone (Nathan Henshaw) with electronic treatments by the composer; this is a busy piece, a tornado perhaps, and not much of Marais is evident when compared with the second version scored for clarinet (Noble) and baroque cello (Yeadon) which features a joyous interweaving of baroque phrases, with 21st century comments. La Reveuse (Coda) is an evocative, atmospheric work which is electronically treated by the composer, the first part being the Coda in reverse, electronically treated, followed by a sombre bass clarinet solo of the Coda, not in reverse and not electronically treated. Four short segments, ‘Fragments 1-4’, are segued, highlighting melodic lines with abundant baroque ornamentations; the overall effect is of beauty, mystery and contemplation, finishing on a remarkable, long, single, high, pure, note.
Vivre Sa Vie,Composer’s Cut reminds us of Wilcox’s history of composing for screen, as in this work she has composed her own original score to scenes from the 1962 film by Jean-Luc Godard, originally scored by Michel Legrand. It is based on a clearly stated theme, with many variations and changes of mood, from exuberant passages to lilting dance sections to transparent instrumental textures. The work was written in 2017 as a commission from the Australia Ensemble. This most enjoyable and invigorating ice is performed with their usual verve and sparkle by Ensemble Offspring.
‘SON’ is a movement from a two-movement work String Quartet No. 1, SON-ombra (Sound-Shadow). The composer writes that she was taken with the notion of “…sonic traces, or the way in which sound can leave a residue in its wake…’SON’ explores opaque, strong, bulky sounds occupying the sonic foreground, and dramatic, goal-oriented gestures; ‘ombra’ is more transparent, focused on internal activity and textrure, and the spaces between.” Sydney Art Quartet gives a spirited performance of this interesting and engrossing work. It would have been an advantage to have included ‘ombra’ and to hear the whole piece as described.
Falling is a serene and beautiful depiction in sound of falling snow. Sensitively rendered by Jason Noble, clarinet, Freya Schack-Arnott, cello and the composer herself at the piano, it forms a sweet and gentle conclusion to the program.
Liner notes are expressive and informative, clear, well written and thorough, as one might expect from Wilcox who is also a scholarly researcher and writer. Details of recording venues and technical personnel are included.
Another superb product from Move.