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Island Songs
Peter SCULTHORPE (1929–2014)
Island Songs
(2013) [17:33]
Brett DEAN (b. 1961)
The Siduri Dances
(2007) [12:55]
Ross EDWARDS (b. 1943) Full Moon Dances – Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra (2012) [28:40]
Amy Dickson (saxophone)
Sydney Symphony Orchestra/Benjamin Northey (Sculthorpe; Dean), Miguel Harth-Bedoya (Edwards)
rec. 2013, Eugene Goossens Hall, ABC Ultimo, (Sculthorpe; Dean); live, Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House, (Edwards)
SONY CLASSICAL 88875 169062 [59:08]

This disc is an all-Australian production featuring Sydney-born saxophonist Amy Dickson and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. They perform three 'concertos' written or arranged for her by several of Australia’s foremost contemporary composers.

The first of these, Island Songs, was composed by Peter Sculthorpe in 2013, a year before his death, for two pianos and didjeridu. He later re-arranged it specifically for Amy Dickson and the soprano saxophone. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation recorded it at their Ultimo Centre in Sydney in November 2013. The concerto has two movements: the first, Song of Home is slow and dreamy and is based on three traditional native melodies. Two of the melodies were originally from islands off the northern coast of Australia, Thursday Island and Elcho Island. The third melody, Djilile, or “whistling duck on a billabong” was borrowed and adapted from an Aboriginal melody collected in north Australia in the 1950s. Djilile was a particular favourite of Sculthorpe’s. He used it in 1977 in a piece he wrote for strings entitled Port Essington, and again in 1988 in Kakadu that he composed for orchestra. Later in 1992 it appeared in a Dream Tracks for piano, clarinet and violin, and once more in 2008 in an arrangement for two guitars. Song of Home marvellously describes the vast expanse and emptiness of the Australian outback, with the mesmerizing sound of the saxophone singing the melodies, floating gracefully over a field of strings. The second movement - Lament and Yearning - again has the rich sonorous saxophone providing a haunting and elegant contrast with the orchestra. This time it sounds a theme of homesickness, and a sad warning of the ecological changes occurring in the world around us. A flock of birds is heard near the end of the movement, adding to the impact.

The second 'concerto', The Siduri Dances, was composed by Brett Dean and adapted from his earlier 2007 work for solo flute and string orchestra. This was recorded at the same sessions as Island Songs, with Benjamin Northey conducting both pieces. The Siduri Dances describes a female deity from the Epic of Gilgamesh, dwelling at the end of the world between life and death, giving sage advice to passing travellers. It is a moody, modernistic number filled with assorted jerky rhythm changes, jarring melodies and jumpy solos, interspersed with brief periods of relative tranquillity.

The third concerto, Full Moon Dances, by Ross Edwards, was recorded live in concert by ABC Classic FM in October 2012 in the Concert Hall of the Sydney Opera House, with Miguel Harth-Bedoya conducting. This has five interdependent movements: Mantra with Night Birds and Dark Moon Blossoms heralds the appearance of the Moon Goddess, symbolized by the saxophone melodically wafting through the darkness. This is followed by First Ritual Dance, an exuberant primeval hoe-down in the moonlight. The third movement, Water-Moon, is a slow, gentle and mysterious dance number venerating the Bodhisattva Guan Yi, Goddess of Compassion and Mercy. The saxophone is accompanied by harp and a Japanese musical influence lends a beautiful effect. The fourth movement, Sanctus, develops the theme of the Moon Goddess, quietly glowing, receiving and reflecting moonlight. Second Ritual Dance is a vigorous celebration of the earth, with several fine cello solos and a lively saxophone melody leading and concluding the movement.

A 16 page booklet is included with the disc. Liner-notes are by the composers. There's also more information about the performers and conductors.

This CD is a beautiful piece of work and the sound quality is excellent.

Bruce McCollum



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