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Water Settings - Australian music for percussion duo
Daryl PRATT Modern Dance (2002) [5.43]
Michael SMETANIN Finger Funk (2004) [8.06]
Andrew FORD The Crantock Gulls (2003) [7.07]
Daryl PRATT A Room in the House (2004) [9.22]; Water Settings (2005) [20.09]; Tangos Nuevos II (2002) [5.00]
Peter SCULTHORPE arr. Daryl PRATT Djilile (1989) [6.12]
Match percussion duo (Darryl Pratt, Alison Eddington)
rec. April-May 2005, Recital Room East, Sydney Conservatorium. DDD
TALL POPPIES TP183 [62.40]

Match is a percussion duo formed by two fine Australian percussionists, Daryl Pratt, the head of percussion at Sydney Conservatorium, and Alison Eddington, who won the ABC Young Performer of the Year in 1995. Eddington is also a member of the Synergy percussion ensemble; she gave the Australian premiere of Michael Torke’s percussion concerto, Rapture. Pratt has quite a wide range of interests: besides teaching, he is a composer with a fine portfolio of works and plays in the electric jazz group, Sonic Fusion.

This disc is Match’s debut on disc. The duo is characterised by Eddington and Pratt’s decision to focus on two main percussion keyboard instruments; Pratt plays vibraphone and Eddington marimba. Though the disc features other instruments as well, these two form the backbone of the music and give the recital a coherence of sound lacking in some other percussion anthologies. This was something that I liked and the sound-world that the duo evokes is very apt for the disc’s title, Water Settings, but not everyone may welcome being restricted in this way.

Four of Pratt’s own pieces are included on the disc. Modern Dance and Tangos Nuevos II both come from Pratt’s Dance Suite, though the notes give no reason for the other two movements of the suite being omitted. Written in 2002, these are jazz-influence pieces which reflect Pratt’s background and include opportunities for improvisation. The results are attractive, tuneful and highly atmospheric; both pieces play with fragments of melody and Modern Dance gives hints of both swing and jazz.

A Room in the House was written in 2004 and calls for four hands on a single vibraphone. It is Pratt’s response to a call for new works "exploring new techniques on a single percussion instrument". Pratt uses a variety of techniques to try to extend the expressive abilities of the instrument. These involve a variety of stroking techniques, a wide range of beaters and blending the instrument with other instruments such as cow bells, flexatone and voice. The realm thus evoked is fascinating and atmospheric with dark hints of the night.

Water Settings is a substantial three-part work which Pratt wrote specifically for Match. It reflects Pratt’s interest in creating musical landscapes in response to the Australian landscape, specifically the Eastern seaboard. A variety of other instruments (gongs, noah bells, crotales and cymbals) are combined with the vibraphone to create a dazzling, shifting landscape.

Besides writing four pieces for the group, Pratt has also arranged Peter Sculthorpe’s Djilile. The piece was originally written for piano in 1989, adapted for the Synergy percussion quartet in 1990 and has now re-surfaced in Pratt’s version for vibraphone and marimba. The name of the piece would seem to translate as ‘whistling duck on a billabong’ and is based on a theme which Sculthorpe adapted from an indigenous Australian melody originally recorded in the 1950s. Sculthorpe seems to have a fondness for the melody as he has used it in a number of pieces. Despite the its origins this work has an attractive, quiet funkiness.

The duo include two new works by other composers. Michael Smetanin’s Finger Funk was commissioned by Match in 2004. A striking feature of the piece is that the players use only their fingers and thumbs to play their instruments; no mallets are used at all, though sometimes they utilise rubber pads on their thumbs to aid attack. Perhaps because of this rather particular method of playing, the resulting instrumental sound often evokes a haunted night; sometimes the mood drifts into rhythmic funk, but you feel that the night music element is never far away. This is a fascinating work.

Pratt and Eddington made a percussion duo version of Andrew Ford’s Composition in Blue, Grey and Pink, which they performed in 2003. They have followed this up with Ford’s The Crantock Gulls which was written specially for them. The title refers to the village of Crantock in Cornwall, where the piece was begun.

Match are a percussion duo to watch and on this record display admirable virtuosity. It says much of their musicianship that this virtuosity is put to the service of the music; they do not try to dazzle us just for virtuosity’s sake. The disc showcases Daryl Pratt’s talents, but they have included some fine pieces by other Australian composers.

Robert Hugill

see also review by Jonathan Woolf




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