The Magic Island

HUSH Collection - Volume 13
See end of review for track-listing
Caroline Almonte (piano) *
Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra/Benjamin Northey
rec. September 2012, August 2013, Federation Concert Hall, Hobart, Australia.
HUSH 013 [64:12] 
The HUSH Foundation is the creation of Dr Catherine Crock, a physician at the Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne, Australia. It aims to raise money for a number of children's hospitals around Australia and the world. One of the fund-raising mechanisms is the HUSH Collection. These comprise collections of music written and performed for the Foundation by composers and artists, who donate their time to the cause. The aim of the music is more than just charitable - the Foundation's brief to the composers is to provide “comfort to children, patients and staff in hospital operating theatres, waiting areas, treatment rooms, and, hopefully, beyond”.
I became aware of the project when Elena Kats-Chernin gave a talk at my wife's school. The occasion was the first performance of a piano piece of hers commissioned by the school's music director for his partner's thirtieth birthday. She mentioned that this CD, to which she had contributed, was being released at the end of the year.
The Magic Island is the thirteenth and most ambitious volume, being the first to use a full orchestra for all works. The list of composers is impressive; indeed, it is almost the A-list of Australian composers. There are three names unfamiliar to me - Grenfell, Greenbaum and Grandage - but their contributions are no less impressive than those of their better-known colleagues.
As befits the project’s intention, the music is not complex or harsh, but nor is it trite or childish. It is tonal and melodic, much of it with dancing rhythms. There is a story associated with each, and the results are, perhaps as a consequence, quite cinematic in their style. The only “lack of” that one might observe is a lack of variation in dynamics. This is hardly surprising: the last thing needed in an operating theatre is a sudden fortissimo.
Rather than attempting to describe or analyse each work, allow me just to select a few highlights. Paul Stanhope was known to me from his Fantasia on a Theme by Vaughan Williams, which didn’t do a lot for me when I heard it in concert, but the album’s title track made a very good impression. While she doesn’t mention it in her contribution to the sleeve-notes, Elena Kats-Chernin’s Dance pays considerable homage to Tchaikovsky and The Nutcracker. Its theme is deliciously hypnotic and hummable. Ross Edwards’ Ecstatic Dance has Copland-like elements, and is probably the most energetic of all the pieces.
When I listened to the CD the first time, without looking at the case to know what I was hearing, three pieces grabbed me particularly. When I looked at the playlist, I found that one was the Kats-Chernin, the other two were both by Graeme Koehne. For whatever reason, his music resonates strongly with me. A decade or so ago, I was in the audience for the world premiere of his oboe concerto, Inflight Entertainment, and hadn’t known anything of his music before then. I was quite overwhelmed by it, and the slow movement reduced me to tears - it still can. The final work on this CD has much in common with that.
As I have said, the music is not complex to listen to, nor I would presume, to play. Nevertheless, the TSO do sound as if they enjoyed themselves. The sound quality is excellent.
HUSH is a very worthy project, which has spawned a collection of quite beautiful miniatures that deserve to live on in their own right.
David Barker
A collection of quite beautiful miniatures. 

The Magic Island [4:12]
Dance of the Paper Umbrellas [4:28]
The Stars Above Us All [5:55]
Diving with George [4:14] *
Cythera [6:32]
Ecstatic Dance [5:14]
Pastorale [3:17]
Rock Hopping [4:06]
In the Sunshine [4:31]
Twilight on Dove Lake [5:11]
City Lights, A Mile Up [6:35]
Suspended [5:52]
Just Walk Beside Me … [4:05]