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Ross EDWARDS (b. 1943)
Ecstatic Dances
Flower Songs (1985/7)a [11:06]
Etymalong (1984)b [7:48]
Ecstatic Dance (1978, rev. 1990)c [5:19]
The Tower of Remoteness (1978)d [7:43]
Ulpirra (1993)e [1:39]
Prelude and Dragonfly Dance (1991)f [7:58]
Kumari (1980)g [8:44]
Marimba Dances (1982)h [9:44]
The Song Companya; David Hewitt, Philip South (percussion)a; Roland Peelman (conductor)a; Lisa Moore (piano)b; Patricia Pollett (viola)c; Gwyn Roberts (cello)c; Nigel Westlake (clarinet)d; David Bollard (piano)d; Jo Dudley (recorder)e; Synergyf; Roger Smalley (piano)g; Michael Askill (marimba)h
Recorded: Studio 200, ABC, April 1993 (Flower Songs), August 1993 (Etymalong) and April 1994 (Prelude and Dragonfly Dance); The Nickson Room, University of Queensland, February 1993 (Ecstatic Dance); Sir John Clancy Auditorium, University of NSW, July 1990 (The Tower of Remoteness); Studio 620, Perth, March 1991 (Kumari) and Digital Audio Studios, no date (Marimba Dances)
TALL POPPIES TP 051 [61:13]

Ross EDWARDS (b. 1943)

Dance Mantras (1992)a [4:58]
Raft Song at Sunrise (1995)b [7:36]
Laikan (1979)c [13:27]
Binyang (1996)d [7:26]
Ab Estatis Foribus (1979)e [9:45]
Enyato II (1993/4)f [8:56]
Ecstatic Dances (1978, rev. 1990)g [8:39]
Sydney Chamber Choir, Nicholas Routley (director)ae; Michael Askill (drum)a; Riley Lee (shakuhachi)b; Australia Ensemblec; Rebecca Lagos (percussion)c; Peter Jenkin (clarinet)d; Daryl Pratt (percussion)d; Patricia Pollett (viola)f; Geoffrey Collins (flutes)g
Recorded: Studio 200, ABC, Sydney, April 1995 (Dance Mantras), June 1997 (Binyang), December 1996 (Ab Estatis Foribus) and April 1996 (Enyato II); Reverberation Room at National Acoustics Laboratory, Sydney, July 1996 (Raft Song); Sir John Clancy Auditorium UNSW, December 1995 (Laikan) and Studio 227, ABC Sydney, February 1995 (Ecstatic Dances)
TALL POPPIES TP 126 [61:55]

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The chamber and choral works recorded here span almost twenty years of Ross Edwards’ composing career, the earliest one being from 1978 (albeit revised and expanded in 1990) and the most recent from 1996. They thus provide for a fair survey of his present output. Most pieces here are fairly short, but one should not consider Ross Edwards as a miniaturist. Indeed, he also composed several large-scale works such as the marvellous violin concerto Maninyas (1988), the Symphony No.1 "Da Pacem" (1991) and the nocturne for percussion and orchestra Yarrageh (1989) – all three available on ABC Classics 8.770007 – as well as a substantial piano concerto (available on ABC Classics 426483-2). His output also includes several orchestral works and – among other – a Guitar Concerto, to name but a few.

Some of Edwards’ early works belong to what he describes as his ‘sacred’ pieces, which does not imply any real religious concern but rather alludes to their meditative character. In fact, these ‘sacred’ pieces are quite often inspired by the Australian landscape and nature. These include some piano pieces such as Etymalong (1984) and Kumari (1980) as well as The Tower of Remoteness (1978) for clarinet and piano superbly played here by fellow-composer Nigel Westlake. Another piece belonging to that same period, although a quite different one, is the ensemble piece Laikan (1979) composed for The Fires of London. In fact, the dance-like and song-like quality of much of the music in Laikan already points towards the style of what Edwards describes as his Maninya pieces. The Maninya pieces are often conceived as short diptychs alternating a song-like movement and a livelier, dance-like movement. Edwards composed a series of five Maninya pieces from 1981 to 1986 for various instrumental combinations that culminated with the beautifully lyrical violin concerto Maninyas that I for one consider as one of his finest achievements so far. The Maninya pieces often combine a joyous foot-stamping liveliness (the sort of thing that Reich also achieves in some of his works, such as the superb Tehilim) and a more meditative, almost trance-like lyricism. This is clearly to be heard in the beautiful Flower Songs for chorus and percussion, actually a choral Maninya that is one of the real gems in these discs.

As I mentioned earlier in this review, the earliest work recorded here, Ecstatic Dances, actually originates in a short flute duet composed to mark Peter Sculthorpe’s fiftieth birthday, that was later incorporated into Ecstatic Dances (1990) composed for the present flautist Geoffrey Collins. This short Maninya in all but the name also exists in several versions : flute duet (heard on TP 126), for viola and cello (heard on TP 051), for two violins and for two violas, whereas a string quartet version forms the last movement of Enyato I (1993).

Edwards composed four works all sharing the title of Enyato (meaning "contrast") : Enyato I for string quartet (1993), Enyato II for solo viola (heard on TP 126), Enyato III for orchestra (1995) and Enyato IV for bass clarinet and percussion (1995). So, again, Enyato II composed for Patricia Pollett, is yet another diptych made of a contemplative slow movement and a livelier Maninya.

As I have already remarked, Edwards’ music often displays a joyous dance-like character, also to be heard in the choral piece Dance Mantras (1992) for chorus and drum setting a few Latin words ("May the grace of the Holy Spirit be with you"), beginning in a rather subdued way but progressively building-up to an assertive conclusion. This short piece is also devised in such a way, that it may be sung by a small mixed chorus as well as by a choir of 700 singers. The other choral work here, however, is quite different in mood and intent; and, as such, something of a rarity in Edwards’ output. Ab Estatis Foribus sets four texts from the well-known manuscript of Benedictbeuren in Bavaria (yes, the celebrated Carmina Burana) and includes a setting of Prudentius’ famous Hymnus ante Somnum ("Hymn before Sleep"). The composer admits that these straightforward, tuneful settings have an archaic quality and "a strong element of pastiche" (well, not so, to my mind). The end result is an engaging choral sequence that repays repeated hearings and deserves wider exposure.

These discs fully demonstrate Edwards’ mastery in handling some less familiar instrumental combinations, such as percussion quartet in Prelude and Dragonfly Dance, marimba in what has become one of his most popular works Marimba Dances or clarinet and percussion in the equally attractive Binyang. Neither is he afraid of writing solo pieces for some unexpected instruments such as shakuhachi (Japanese bamboo flue) in Raft Song at Sunrise (a really fine piece, entirely his own and without any attempt at mimicking some Japanese music) and recorder in the extremely short but delightful Ulpirra.

So, in short, this survey of some of Edwards’ chamber and choral music is most welcome. It perfectly illustrates the often happy, unpretentious music making of this endearing composer. His music as heard here is perfectly balanced and never outstays its welcome. I enjoyed these discs enormously, and I now hope that we will soon have a recording of the Maninya series and the Enyato series as well as more of his orchestral music.

Hubert Culot

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