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Red Earth
Colin BRIGHT (b.1949)

Red Earth (1985)
Peggy GLANVILLE-HICKS (1912-1990)

Concertino da camera (1948)
Neil CURRIE (b.1955)

Ortigas Avenue (1986)
David LUMSDAINE (b.1931)

Bagatelles (1985)
Ross EDWARDS (b.1943)

Shadow D-Zone(1977)
Vincent PLUSH (b.1950)

On Shooting Stars (1981)
Tall Poppies Ensemble
Geoffrey Collins (flute/piccolo)
Cathy McCorkill (clarinet)
John Harding (violin)
Esther van Stralen (viola)
David Pereira (cello)
Daryl Pratt (percussion)
Roger Brooke (bassoon)
Ian Munro (piano)
David Stanhope (conductor)
Recorded in Studio 200 ABC Sydney, July 1998
TALL POPPIES TP133 [67.46]

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This wide-ranging conspectus of Australian chamber works derives from the archives of the Seymour Group and the Australia Ensemble. The chamber musicians are part of the Tall Poppies Ensemble who meet for recordings, arranged by the company, and who also have the opportunity to undertake solo recitals as well. Tall Poppies always throws up eclectic, thought-provoking material and their commitment to Australian music is a long lasting one.

Red Earth (the title of the album) is a piece by Colin Bright that utilises features of landscape and of Aboriginal music – insistent, with constant interplay, it exemplifies a didgeridoo technique of note juxtaposition, but there are also moments of reprieve from the insistence – mysterious drone passages, chimes and a sense of quiet withdrawal and concentration. Bright of course is very much with us but Peggy Glanville-Hicks died over a decade ago. Her pithy comments about her own Concertino da Camera are thankfully reprinted here as no one could top them. "Neo classicism is at best a chromium plated brownstone (a snappy resurfacing job that fools no real modern)" she writes, disavowing her neo classical Concertino written in 1948 and marking her swan song to the "strait-jackets of both Vienna and Paris." It’s in three movements, bright and light with piano to the fore in the Allegretto and with vague hints of Martinů in the Adagio.

Neil Currie wrote Ortigas Avenue to mark the fall of the Marcos government in the Philippines in 1986. As with Bright and Aboriginal music so Currie has utilised Filipino folk music, opening with a high flute solo and musing between jagged faux minimalist drive and drama – a decisive, alarming percussive thunderclap against which the flute falters – and some tensile writing, jaggedly oppositional, before becoming increasingly affirmatory and percussion- rich. Lumsdaine’s Bagatelles sit at the heart of this recital. There are eight and were written in 1985 for a variety of players, solo, duo, trio and quartet. It’s hard not to ascribe emotive states to these spare, communing works. The first is melancholy, the second purposeful and full of life tinged with moments of restraint (flute writing of coiling animation) whilst the third faces the future and the past with easy clarity. It’s actually very romantic. A baroque tread haunts the fifth, much the longest; it’s flecked with neo-classicism but the effect is not neo-classical, rather the baroque pillars seem to dissolve into playful modernity. The sixth evokes a Bach solo Cello suite but again has its contrary moments of folk incisiveness – formality and informality in living conjunction whilst the complex seriousness of the eighth and final Bagatelle opens out lyrically to sweep up more veiled baroque music. Lumsdaine contributes his own quizzical note, wondering whether he’s written eight or actually nine bagatelles hinting that "those fragments come from music whose subject matter is other music" – maybe a hint for obtuse reviewers and listeners. Whatever his music may or may not be about it’s the most absorbing, thought provoking on the disc.

Ross Edwards’ Shadow D Zone – only the composer seems to know why it’s called that; the note writer admits he doesn’t – and this is a still, contemplative work with moments of concentrated intensity. Finally there is Vincent Plush’s On Shooting Stars, subtitled Homage to Victor Jara - the Chilean folk singer and poet murdered in 1973. There are three movements each based on Jara’s own music and that embrace both the colour and drama of Jara’s original music as overlain by Plush’s own. The most turbulent is the last, which represents the Chilean coup – fascinating sonorities and unsettling percussive interjections – we even hear Jara himself singing before a stark representation of his torture is enacted – the flute of his voice silenced brutally by vicious rasps like biblical scourges.

Political, geographical, playful, light-footed, this disc covers a lot of ground. Despite it all however it’s Lumsdaine’s little prismic statements that linger most and evoke the vortex of memory.

Jonathan Woolf

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