Tall Poppies


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 TP (1-901)



Music by Andrew Ford

$23   (Australian dollars)


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The Icarus mythology has fascinated Ford for many years, and here are all the pieces thus inspired. The Kowmung Music Festival Players are featured, along with Terra Australis recorded at the Aspen Festival. Barbara Blackman wrote the text for Parabola. "Like Icarus Ascending" features New York-based violinist Rohan Smith.

Andrew FordHymn to the Sun
Icarus Drowning
Like Icarus ascending
Chamber Concerto No 3: In constant flight


Sunstruck could stand as a comment on all the pieces on Andrew Ford's new disc for the Tall Poppies label, as it might also represent to some degree the parabola of his journey 18 years ago from his native northern England to Australia, where he has since made himself an indispensable part of the musical landscape.

His Hymn to the Sun, written in memory of the late Peggy Glanville-Hicks, is his very free instrumental reworking of a single-line vocal piece by Mesomedes of Crete, which survives from the second century in alphabetic pitch notation and text. On this disc it becomes a kind of timeless incantatory prelude to a series of compositions about a mythical figure who clearly fascinates Ford: the doomed over-reacher, Icarus.

Ford's piece for solo violin, Like Icarus ascending, is played by the US-based, Australian-born Rohan Smith. The solo violin traces the soaring arc of Icarus's progress until it is lost in the heights of rarefied silence, perhaps at the point where the aviator has disappeared from mortal sight.

Smith is also the soloist in an expanded version of this music, in constant flight, in which the violin is partnered by an instrumental ensemble, so earning the piece an additional identity as Ford's Chamber Concerto No 3. Despite its access to some vivid gestures, I'm not sure that it adds a great deal to the solo version.

Much more successful, I think, is Ford's Parabola, a 1989 theatre piece on Icarus with a lithe, catlike pounce in Barbara Blackman's text. Actors Richard Moore and Annette Tesoriero deliver the words well (just a fraction too stagily in Tesoriero's case), but the visual theatre of the piece is apparently to be found in deliberately exaggerated physical movements by the instrumentalists (bass clarinettist Bronwen Jones, pianist Lisa Moore and percussionist Daryl Pratt). One way or another, this piece sustains its length.

Ford's most recent piece in this sequence is Icarus drowning (1998). This piece for nine instrumentalists begins, the composer points out, with the musical splash that ends the instrumental contribution to Parabola. Its character suggests a slowed-down version of Icarus's death, his mind recalling glimpses of his life in the form of brief quotations from earlier Icarus pieces.

This is eloquently luminous instrumental writing for Peter Jenkin's clarinet (and bass clarinet), Alice Giles's harp, as well as a string quartet and three percussionists. The final gasps of the bass clarinet signal the end of the slow ballet as Icarus's body drifts and twists within oceanic tides. The tolling end of the piece is a memorable use of musical space.

Roger Covell, SMH 18.8.01

Icarus drowning, most strikingly of all, takes Brueghel's painting 'The Fall of Icarus' as a starting point (in which all that can be seen of him are his two feet disappearing into the water) and in music of extreme slowness and growing intensity charts his descent through the water, recalling his ascent and flight as it does so. The poetic coda, with distant gongs and bells, was suggested by the site of first performance . . . and sounds both final—it refers back to the opening of the violin piece [Like Icarus ascending]—and like a tolling lament. It is the most impressive piece in the [Icarus] cycle.

Michael Oliver
August 2002

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