Tall Poppies Ensemble
$23 (Australian dollars)
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|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
Here is a world-premiere recording of important Australian works for instrumental ensemble. Both the performers and the repertoire have been hand-selected for this project, which was funded by the Australia Council.
The Tall Poppies Ensemble is an occasional group assembled for special recording projects. All the players have long-standing connections with Tall Poppies in that they have, or will, record solo CDs for the label or have been involved in other ensemble projects. Such a splendid gathering of performers gives Tall Poppies a chance to record some neglected Australian repertoire.
The music on this CD comes from the archives of the Seymour Group and from the Australia Ensemble. Together the music presents, as it happens, a snapshot of important compositional and philosophical interests of Australian composers over the years. Where possible, the composers attended the recordings.
Each work on this new CD creates a special atmosphere, from the arid outback and Aboriginal sounds of Colin Bright, to the sparse abstract gestures of Ross Edwards, to the gentle rollicking brightness of Peggy Glanville-Hicks’ neo-classical Concertino da Camera. The centrepiece of the CD is the sinewy Bagatelles of David Lumsdaine, a sextet full of surprises and beautifully performed. Politics is the creative inspiration behind Vincent Plush’s On Shooting Stars: Homage to Victor Hara which comments on the life and times of the Chilean singer, and also Neil Currie’s chirpy Ortigas Avenue, inspired by the Filipino coup in 1986.
|Colin Bright||Red Earth|
|Peggy Glanville-Hicks||Concertino da camera|
|Neil Currie||Ortigas Avenue|
|Ross Edwards||Shadow D Zone|
|Vincent Plush||On shooting stars|
|Recorded in the ABC Sydney studios in 1998, the disc has taken quite some time to be released, but, in this case, much better late than never. Performances are drawn from a core group of six instrumentalists, with David Stanhope as conductor. As with the Philharmonia Orchestra in London many years ago, the Tall Poppies ensemble was formed/named for the specific purpose of recording music (in this case Australian music), not for giving public concerts. |
With the exceptions of Glanville-Hicks’s Concertino da Camera (1948) and Ross Edwards’s Shadow D-Zone, all the music on this disc was composed during the 1980s. Much of it has extra-musical impulses: environmental or political, or, in the case of Colin Bright’s Red Earth (1985), both. As with nearly all the music here, Bright’s piece is brief (8’) and memorable. Drawing on structural and performance aspects of Aboriginal music, and shaping the textures and rhythm of his music accordingly, he conveys something of the spacious, flat landscape of the Australian outback. Essentially in two distinct parts, the first begins with fast pulsating ostinato rhythms on percussion, then proceeds to a slow, wistful second section comprising of brief melodic flourishes oddly reminiscent of the ‘Rain Dance’ from John Antill’s Corroboree of 1946. Of note here and throughout the entire disc is the excellent recording, whose wide dynamic range and warm yet clear acoustic captures fully the individual qualities of the instruments—the bass drum is notably well caught—and allows fine internal clarity in concertante passages.
On Shooting Stars is one of Vincent Plush’s most popular and colourful compositions and it is easy to see why. Written in homage to the Chilean poet and singer Victor Jara, brutally executed during the overthrow of the Allende government in 1973, it comprises three contrasting movements that attempt to depict broadly the person, his music and the chaotic times. Plush’s piece is captivating. It blends the pre-recorded melodious, folk-like music (and voice) of Jara with Plush’s distinctive sound-world to great effect. Well worth investigating, it is vibrant, bewitching music that stands repeated hearings, especially when performed with such conviction and élan as here.
Peggy Glanville-Hicks’s Concertino da Camera is an immediately attractive three-movement quartet for flute, clarinet, bassoon and piano, showing clear characteristics of the prevalent neo-classical style that had almost run its race internationally by 1948. This music at once reveals Glanville-Hicks’s ability to write simple but memorable themes and to engage each of the instruments equally in the musical discourse. I was particularly taken with the spiky and energetic third movement, which here benefits from the unbridled enthusiasm and expertise of the players.
Coming in at just under seven minutes, Neil Currie’s Ortigas Avenue was written in 1986 shortly after the Marcos regime ended in the Philippines. Named after an eponymous street in Manilla where public demonstrations convinced the Military to withdraw its support for the government, Ortigas Avenue is a joyful piece written in what might be described as an embellished minimalist style.
The enigmatically titled Shadow D-Zone (1977) shows Ross Edwards at his most restrained. The piece demands the listener’s full concentration, because this is music for which quality of sound and the space that surrounds sound is all-important. Wispy melodic fragments float around ominous-sounding, static chords, engendering an overall mood of calm and contemplation.
Beginning with a lyrical solo violin soliloquy, sensitively played by John Harding, David Lumsdaine’s Bagatelles (1985) consist of eight short pieces contrasted in character, mood and instrumentation. And although there are, at times, faint echoes of some of the principal voices of mid twentieth-century European modernism, these Bagatelles reveal the hand of perhaps a more distinctive musical personality than any other on the disc.
Scores and parts of all the music on this CD are available for hire or purchase at the Australian Music Centre’s library. Peggy Glanville-Hicks’s music is published by L’Oiseau Lyre Press, and, like a number of the other pieces on the disc, is challenging but by no means beyond the scope of experienced players. If you buy this disc I guarantee you will not be disappointed.
Sounds Australian Journal no 63 (2004)
Australian Music Centre
Drawing together salient Australia compositions of a certain age, this disc is notable for its performance quality and documentary value.
It covers a fairly wide span, from Peggy Glanville-Hicks’s neo-classical Concertino da Camera of 1948 to Neil Currie’s minimalist Ortigas Avenue (1986), built from the popular rhythms of a different generation. Glanville-Hicks’s composition draws on the clarity and charm of French music between the wars.
The second movement is fondly reminiscent of Darius Milhaud, while the last offers a slightly quaint, even chaste, take on jazz. Currie’s Oriogas Avenue, written to celebrate the fall of the Marcos government in the Philippines in 1986, articulates uncomplicated joy, first in a shrill folk cry on the solo woodwind and then by playing gently unpredictable games with popular rhythm.
The title track, Red Earth (1985), by Colin Bright, uses the urban patterns of minimalism to evoke the desert, moving from active opening textures to a more ceremonial second section against clapping sticks, and an impressive ritualistic close with the rhythmic subtlety of Stravinsky.
David Lumsdaine’s Bagatelles (1985) breaks up the ensemble (a sextet) into distinct subgroups – solos, duos, a trio and a quartet – who play textures of tantalising familiarity, as though in a surreal dream where one meets Bach or Debussy to discuss everyday things. Ross Edwards’ Shadow D Zone (1977) is also nocturnal but awake, exploring the intensely still sounds of insects.
Vincent Plush’s On Shooting Stars (1981) is a homage to the Chilean folk singer Victor Jara, who was killed by the Pinochet regime.
The Tall Poppies Ensemble produces playing of crisp brilliance, style and outstanding precision under conductor David Stanhope. This recording captures and savours a moment as the wheel turns.
Sydney Morning Herald December 2004
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 Martinu? 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
August 04, MusicWeb (UK)
This is an excellent disc of modern chamber music with predominantly Australian origins. When travelling abroad I usually take some local music with me but, on a trip to Australia earlier this year, I took … Bach and Beethoven … and not a note of Australian music. The reason was simple – I didn’t have any. In fact, the only Australian music I can recall hearing was by Don Banks at a concert more than 25 years ago. On the evidence of this disc, though, it’s about time those of us "over here" (in the UK) took more notice of what’s going on "down under".
Red Earth by Colin Bright is a highly original and atmospheric work depicting an outback landscape. There are prominent Aboriginal rhythmic influences in the opening section, which is dominated by percussion. This is followed by contrasting interludes with plaintiff woodwind prominent and which provide a feeling of vast space. After just eight and half minutes the music disappears into nothing.
Concerto da Camera by Peggy Glanville-Hicks is the oldest work here, having been premiered in Amsterdam in 1948. It was described by the composer as a swansong for her neo-classical influences. Glanville-Hicks was born in Melbourne but left for Europe as a young women where she was taught composition by Vaughan Williams and Wellesz. During the war she went to the United States, eventually becoming famous as a music critic for the New York Herald Tribune. After developing a brain tumour she returned to Australia in 1975. The work is divided into in three short movements and it bounces along attractively in a manner reminiscent of Martinu?’s La Revue de Cuisine.
Ortigas Avenue is by Neil Currie, a Canadian who has spent time in Australia as composer in residence for the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. The inspiration for the work was the overthrow of the Marcos regime and rise of Cory Aquino as President of the Philippines in February 1986. The critical moment in this bloodless coup occurred in Ortigas Avenue and is here depicted in a seven minute work which draws on Filipino folk music. Somehow this music never seems quite momentous enough for the occasion, opening with an attractive piccolo solo and quite abruptly moving to a joyous rhythmic frolic.
Bagatelles by David Lumsdaine, a series of 8 short pieces for different combinations of instruments lasting 21 minutes, is actually the most substantial work on this disc. In his note about the work the composer defines a bagatelle as "a trifle, a thing of no importance…" but it seems that he then seeks to convince us, both in his words and music, that the whole is much more than the sum of the parts. And, in my view, he succeeds completely. I was left in no doubt that the title of this work should not be taken too seriously, nor of the high quality of its musical inspiration.
Shadow D-Zone by Ross Edwards is a sextet, the title of which remains a mystery. This atmospheric music draws from nature and Australian culture. A slow tempo is pervasive throughout but the ending is abrupt.
On Shooting Stars by Vincent Plush provides a fitting climax to the disc. It was written as a homage to the Chilean folk-singer poet Victor Jara who was a victim of the military coup against the Allende government in 1973. There are three movements with descriptive titles in Spanish which translate as (1) The Departure (2) The Child of the Earth (3) Our Hearts are Full of Banners. The style is readily approachable and the final movement incorporates the voice of Victor Jara himself.
Tall Poppies is an occasional group of players assembled specifically for recording music. All of their performances on this disc are committed and convincing, and they are very well recorded. There are detailed illustrated notes on the composers, music and performers. It’s surprising, and a pity, that we have had to wait six years for the disc to surface.
Next time I go to Australia I shall certainly be taking this disc with me and it will be getting some more airings before then. It’s a gem.
© Patrick C Waller
Australia has a -- perhaps surprisingly -- lively new music scene and this disc showcases work by a number of her important composers. It is not, however, just a sampler drawn from past recordings. Tall Poppies, a label with a wonderful record of support for new Australian music, has brought together a group of outstanding players to record some of the best music from the archives of two of the country's leading contemporary music ensembles, the Australia Ensemble and the Seymour Group.
As that implies, the works are not particularly new. Most, in fact, are relatively early pieces by composers who are now mid-career.
The six compositions fall neatly into pairs.
Colin Bright's comments on the title track, his Red Earth (1985), also define what is perhaps the most idiosyncratic element of Australian composition: 'There is an overall sense of stasis and spaciousness, a flatness and repetitiveness which is characteristic of so much of the outback landscape ... Even if you live in the city, the vast space of the interior is still part of [your] psyche.'
The sense of stillness can be even stronger in the music of Ross Edwards. Shadow D-Zone (1977) seems almost to have been created as an object of contemplation. Unfortunately, its crystalline delicacy means no extract could convey a fair impression of it. Edwards is one of the most highly regarded Australian composers active today. He has continued to work in this contemplative mode, but is also known for more extroverted, dance-like pieces such as Maninyas and his recent (wonderful, but as yet unrecorded) Oboe Concerto.
Peggy Glanville-Hicks (born 1912) and David Lumsdaine (born 1931) are the most European of the composers.
Glanville-Hicks was born in Melbourne but received most of her training in Europe and spent much of her working life in New York, returning to Australia only in 1975. Her three-movement Concertino da Camera (1948) was written before half the composers on this disc were born. It is in fact exactly contemporary with Stravinsky's Rake's Progress and audibly belongs to that world [listen -- track 4, 0:00-0:50]. Enjoyable though it is, the Concertino is a little anomalous here.
Lumsdaine similarly left Australia to study in England, and he stayed there for twenty years; since 1973 he has shared his time between the two countries. His Bagatelles (1985) are more overtly concerned with musical process than anything else on the disc. They are concise, abstract and dynamic as compared to the younger composers' more spacious, programmatic and static works. Incisive miniatures which coalesce into a multi-movement work, the Bagatelles contrast sub-sections of the ensemble. The whole sextet comes together only for two episodes
Neil Currie and Vincent Plush are both represented by explicitly political pieces. Currie's Ortigas Avenue celebrates the 1986 Filipino revolution, while Plush takes folksinger-poet Victor Jara as a symbol of the freedom which Chile lost when Allende was toppled in the 1973 military coup. Coincidentally, the composers' lives mirror each other as neatly as do their pieces: Currie was born in Canada, worked in Australia for about a decade, and then returned home, while Plush was born in Australia, worked extensively in USA, and is now back in Australia.
Ortigas Avenue has its moments of tension but joyful dance rhythms, with clear references to Filipino folk music, predominate [listen -- track 5, 5:35-6:46]. On Shooting Stars -- Homage to Victor Jara (1981) is a more extended and more programmatic work. Its haunting final section starts ominously [listen -- track 17, 0:00-0:52]. In time, the recorded voice of Jara emerges, only to be buried again under layers of instrumental static.
The nine musicians involved in these performances (see CD details below) are all at the peak of the profession in Australia. They have played together in various combinations in the Australia Ensemble, the Seymour Group and the country's leading orchestras, the Australian Chamber Orchestra, Sydney Symphony and others. Their performances of this repertoire can be regarded as definitive.
Red Earth is a lovely disc in its own right and needs no other recommendation, but there is an obvious bonus: it's a good introduction to the composers represented on it. Those unfamiliar with any contemporary Australian music will find it a good starting point but should try to complement it. Something by Peter Sculthorpe, preferably for strings or full orchestra, should be high on the list; other than that, one could confidently follow up the work of any of the people -- composers or performers -- or ensembles (or indeed the record-label) responsible for this fine recording.
© 20 October 2004 Malcolm Tattersall
Listeners looking for a happy adventure into some of the last century's less-traveled musical territory--that is, works by Australian composers--are advised to investigate this excellent program of chamber works. And although all of these pieces were written in the 1980s or before (one is from 1948), they remain remarkably fresh-sounding and are surprisingly free of the faddish experimentation or anti-audience hyper-technical mannerisms rampant in the compositional world back then. Instead, we get music that's not only readily listenable but smart, capable of holding our interest because in each work there's a perceivable progression of events--rhythmic, melodic, timbral, dynamic--that both orient us and keep us in anticipation. And, each composer uses his instrumental forces--varying combinations of flute (or piccolo), clarinet, violin, viola, cello, bassoon, piano, and percussion--creatively and intelligently.
That's not to say that every piece is a winner--or necessarily one you'd want to hear repeatedly. However, the program itself is very well-conceived and ordered to draw us willingly through the whole thing at a sitting--thanks to the uniqueness of each piece and to the first-rate musicianship, both individual and ensemble. Colin Bright's Red Earth is supposed to be an exploration of "the psyche of place"--specifically the Australian outback--and indeed several other of the works here purport to have their own extra-musical agendas or provenances. Putting my own skepticism aside regarding the nature and purpose of such representations, I will say that the piece succeeds because of its exciting rhythmic framework (rapid-fire repeated notes, changing meters, starts and stops) and for its constantly shifting instrumental combinations and brazen harmonies. A slower, reflective middle section keeps threatening to break loose in a return to the opening fury--and it never does (but probably should have). Nevertheless, this is a worthy and very enjoyable effort. Peggy Glanville-Hicks' Concertino is a sunny, optimistic work for piano and winds that dances along through three very well-structured movements. The expert scoring (and the terrific piano part) make this one of the disc's most engaging entries--and yes, it's the most traditionally-oriented of the six works.
Most reminiscent of those 1970s and '80s conservatory-style exercises is David Lumsdaine's Bagatelles. Except for the opening solo-violin rumination, most of the eight sections sound disjointed (intentionally so?), sometimes sputtering and spitting odd bits of melody, at others attempting to actually develop an idea. Neil Currie's Ortigas Avenue is a springy, jazzy (if somewhat repetitive) reflection on the fall of the Marcos regime in the Philippines in February, 1986. Although you're unlikely to hear the connection, the music's inherently snappy style will keep you engaged--perhaps even moving your feet. Ross Edwards' Shadow D Zone (we're never told what this means) just lies there, barely moving, perhaps invoking a nearly deserted landscape where every discernible feature, no matter how small or what color or how soft, is of major significance. Nine minutes may be a little too much for this concept, but try closing your eyes as you listen--you may begin to think more of the Twilight Zone than of the work's own title.
Finally, Vincent Plush's On shooting stars, which also carries an extra-musical theme--a tribute to Chilean folksinger-poet Victor Jara--is less a unified work and more a series of three "scenes" stuck together with some interesting percussion writing (including for the piano) and effective dramatic moments that portray "the chaos and panic" during the coup against Salvador Allende in 1973. Overall, the recorded sound is very good and as mentioned, the quality of the playing is uniformly excellent. No, this may not be for everyone, but most listeners--even those who tend to shy away from latter-20th-century chamber music--will find delights and rewards here enough to make this a worthwhile acquisition.
David Vernier [8/2/2004]
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