Ross Edwards – Orchestral Works – Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, Richard Mills
Ross Edwards (b.1943)
White Ghost Dancing
Veni Creator Spiritus
Concerto for Guitar and Strings
Mountain Village in a Clearing Mist
Chorale and Ecstatic Dance (Enyato I)
Karin Schaupp, guitar
Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra
Richard Mills, conductor
ABC Classics 476 227-0
by Benjamin Chee
Most traditionally-minded audiences tend to view new commissions and compositions as queerly as three-dollar bills, or are inclined to regard “World Premiere” as synonymous with “Last Performance”. It’s hard to blame them for that – and especially so, in this day and age, where society for the most part does not have the time or money to support artists who insist on producing works of art which are commercially useless.
And yet, this release of Ross Edwards’s (right) symphonic music is part of a larger three-year plan, by ABC Classics in collaboration with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, to systematically record and produce twenty albums as part of a documentation project to showcase four generations of modern Australian composers. This is a laudable effort, and in truth, one which should give all true-hearted classical aficionados something to look forward to. Sometimes the most rewarding experiences do require the deepest commitment and effort (just ask anyone who’s ever traveled afar to attend a Ring cycle.)
Ross Edwards’s music is one which is largely predicated on a sound-world that is inimitably his own, and curiously enough, is predicated upon two distinctive compositional styles. The first has been described as his “sacred” style. I’d hesitate to make comparisons here with other composers who have developed (or are still developing) technically identical styles; yet, as history shows us, many emergent artistic trends have developed simultaneously in many places, each without recourse to the other during its parturition.
For Edwards, this style first came into prominence in Mountain Village in a Clearing Mist – the title comes from a Chinese poem – and on first hearing, seems quite a perfectly logical extrapolation from the evolutionary dead-end of atonal music. It is given here by Richard Mills and the Tasmanian Symphony with a high degree of lucidity and timbral intensity which is rather captivating: one becomes vicariously aware of each acoustic punctuation, emphasizing the experience of the “now” rather than the “whole”, and like a ritualistic tea ceremony, through sip by sip, building the listening experience into a whole which is greater than the sum of the individual tonal events.
Edwards’s works in the second style, the maninya, dominates the rest of the album. The word comes arbitrarily from the composer’s nonsense poem “Maninya”, and over the years has been used to connote certain characteristics of chant-like quality juxtaposed against dance-like energy. It draws from the multi-faceted traditions of ethnic music from countries along the eastern Pacific Rim as well the Middle-East. It could have as easily become an intellectual mogrelism, but Edwards has crafted this amalgamation into a unique voice which he can claim as his own.
The outer movements of the Guitar Concerto, for instance, are respectively described as First and Second Maninyas, framing a lyrical central movement. Despite the composer’s own reservations about writing a work for guitar, this is easily one of the most felicitous works I’ve ever heard for the instrument and definitely worth an audition by guitar enthusiasts. Karin Schaupp’s (left) solo turn is breathtaking, and the sheer electricity which Mills generates from the orchestra is no less gripping.
Mills also takes the two-movement Enyato I and delivers a vividly characterized account of two contrasting halves, the first with richly-endowed tranquility, and the second with an infectious ostinato-like rhythm. Veni Creator Spiritus is also a two-section chant-and-dance maninya, ardently performed as well. But, along with the Guitar Concerto, the highlight of this album for me is the title work, White Ghost Dancing, a delightfully quicksilver maninya which sparkles with wit and invention, and is here given an interpretation as authoritative as any youd ever hope to find.
The concept of creating a contrast between outbreaks of musical energy against inwardly soulful moments of meditation sounds simple enough, but Edwards’s juxtaposition of such extremes creates a rich idiom from which his fabulously imaginative oeuvres emerge, as this album proves. This acoustics of this recording, made in late 2002 and 2003 at the Federation Concert Hall in Hobart, is well up to standard and gives no grounds for reservation.
Benjamin Chee has a thing for small orchestras which can punch well above their weight class.
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365: 12.12.1998 Chia Han-Leon
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