The Green CD
The Song Company
Roland Peelman (musical director)
$23 (Australian dollars)
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|In these times of exploding world interest in the future of our planet environmentally this CD is timely. All the works deal with nature in some aspect, mostly protesting. Wesley-Smith's 'Who Killed Cock Robin?' is the most important Australian choral work and certainly one of the most popular.|
|Martin Wesley-Smith||Who Killed Cock Robin?|
|Ross Edwards||Flower Songs|
|Anthony Bremner||In the Shrubbery|
|Stuart Greenbaum||Upon the Dark Water|
|Michael Whiticker||Man, Skin Cancer of the Earth|
|Martin Wesley-Smith||Who Stopped the Rain?|
|Martin Wesley-Smith's composer colleagues, myself included, secretly hate him. It's not a personal thing. He's a generous fellow, affable to a fault, and there are few people with whom I'd rather have dinner. But he seems to have misunderstood the whole point about being a contemporary composer. He writes music that audiences like. I don;t mean they just respect it, or admire it, or find it powerful or deeply affecting; no, they really like it.… Wesley-Smith's music spans all the usual genres from chamber music to opera, and his work with electronics and computers seems to call for the adjective 'pioneering', But the fact that audiences even like his electronic music (which surely can;t be right) attests to the nature of his output. Even when he is being deadly serious, as in the chamber opera Quito (TP111) … Wesley-Smith continually undercuts the paths with black humour. I should stress that it's usually not applied humour, but rather a rich seam of irony, capable of descending into slapstick, but more generally insinuating itself with some subtlety. It's the musical equivalent of a raised eyebrow, from beneath which Wesley-Smith views the world and all its absurdities.|
And so it is with Who Killed Cock Robin? now 17 years old and available post-vinylly for the first time. As the disc's title suggests, its contents reflect the concern that some Australian composers feel at the destruction of the natural environment, and Wesley-Smith's piece, the 'classic' if the compilation, receives a compelling performance from an expanded Song Company under its director Roland Peelman. Indeed, the Song Company is in generally fine form here, As the topic for a musical work, the poisoning of the planet by pesticides is as grim as it's unlikely, but Wesley-Smith's approach works wonderfully well. The original Victorian parlour ballad is treated to a variety of styles, ranging from a chromatically perverse musical-hall novelty song with an injection of 1950s doo-wop, to barbershop, to a climactic, slow-motion pile-up of Ligetian dissonances during the final recital of the list of insecticides that ultimately killed 'poor Cock Robin'. It's a small masterpiece.
This disc has …a declaration that it contains environmentally friendly choral music. What it does not claim, but could, is that it is entertaining and tuneful as well as, in places, frankly propagandist on behalf of saving a polluted Earth. The big work is Martin Wesley-Smith's Who Killed Cock Robin? This is a kind of choral inquest on one of the most famous deaths in song and verse.…Barber-shop harmonies, vocalised oom-pah harmonies, memorable tunes and piercingly scored choral paragraphs all have a place in this musical parable. Wesley-Smith's brief Who Stopped the Rain? does not allot blame, but Michael Whiticker's Man, Skin Cancer of the Earth certainly does, with aggressive speech-propelled and percussive urgency in a bluntly propagandistic manner, which Stuart Greenbaum's Upon the Dark Water make san accusation almost too poetically oblique to be noticed. Ross Edwards' two Flower Songs celebrate some Australian wildflowers in attractive rhythm and catchy melody; and Anthony Bremner's In the Shrubbery, set to a text taken from a gardening book, is a piece of non-political vaudeville introduced by Judy Glen's primly bossy guide. The Song Company is in it best form under Roland Peelman's typically precise direction.
Sydney Morning Herald February 1996
Martin Wesley-Smith's Who Killed Cock Robin? is a clever, often hilarious little cantata that parades the murder suspects in diverse musical styles; a goofy waltz, 50s rock, some barbershop, and a nifty soft-shoe danced by a falsely accused caterpillar. Turns out is was pesticides that got the little birdy, and the fearsome names of the chemical substances are belted out in nasty dissonances as the piece draws to a close. The other notable entry is Anthony Bremner;s In The Shrubbery – a series of verbatim quotes from an oh-so-boring botany text, compete with hilarious declamations from an officious female narrator and some frothy music that ends with a stirring ode to fertiliser. Definitely not the same old shit!
American Record Guide.
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