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Making of A Medium Vol. 18:
Music from Down Under

Peter SCULTHORPE (b.1929)
Baltimore Songlines (2006) [15:11]
Barry CONYNGHAM (b.1944)
Playground (2002) [13:53]
Douglas KNEHANS (b.1957)
rive (2002) [11:56]
Richard MILLS (b.1949)
Four Miniatures (1992) [10:50]
Christopher MARSHALL (b.1956)
Three Aspects of Spring (2003) [15:07]
Verdehr Trio (Walter Verdehr (violin); Elsa Ludewig-Verdehr (clarinet); Silvia Roederer (piano))
rec. 2008
Experience Classicsonline

It’s good to know that Crystal is stepping into territory normally associated with labels such as ABC and Tall Poppies. This is all music with a strong Australian angle, either written by its composers or in the case of Douglas Knehans who now lives there and in Christopher Marshall’s case, who was brought up there but who now lives in America.

Sculthorpe’s Baltimore Songlines is the most recent of the quintet of works to have been written. Opening with a lullaby, its lyrical journey winds with a mesmeric sense across the musical landscape taking in didgeridoo (didjeridu if you’re taken by new spelling) impersonation and a kind of Australasian cimbalom sound-world that sounds as authentically rooted in the soil, as does, say, Bartók. After a quarter of an hour there is a kind of ecstasy of arrival.

Barry Conyngham wrote Playground in 2002. Due to its genesis - a memorial inscription, in a playground, to a child ‘who loved to play’ - this is a work shot through with ominous shards and scurrying prismic patterns. There are also taut, mercurial, jagged moments, as well as dreamlike refractions - especially in the watery piano part. Held notes and pizzicati are part of this aural picture, as are turbulent piano interjections, and some moments of electronic flutter, that summon up the playground bustle, and seem to embrace the music as it ends.

If Playground took us in unusual aural and expressive directions, Douglas Knehans gives up a modishly lower case rive. It’s the only thing I didn’t like about it. Maybe there are other pieces about the Tasmanian Devil, but I can’t think of one off-hand. Rive means ‘ripping apart’ by the way and so ‘muscular dismemberment’, in the composer’s words, is the name of the game. As a result the writing is sinewy and powerful and takes the opening material gradually to pieces either with aggression or with foraging surety. Hints of Nyman perhaps, especially in the piano writing.

The Four Miniatures of Richard Mills are ingenious and brief. The second is a fast toccata with slower, more wanly lyric contrastive material. The Adagio is the centre piece though, in terms of concentrated expression, alternating between drifting quietude and outright turbulence. There are some hints of Berg in the last of the four, a determined Presto. From four to three; Christopher Marshall’s Three Aspects of Spring ends the programme in hugely enjoyable style. The first, October Idyll, is a delightfully carefree and melodic outpouring whilst the second is suffused with birdcall fragments, forest rich with teeming life. The last is Synergy comes from a Solomon Island panpipe tune and is duly celebratory.

It ends a notably well recorded recital. Notes on the works are by the composers, which is a plus. Admirers of Australian contemporaries or their near-relations should not fear to explore.

Jonathan Woolf 



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