Tall Poppies


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Ecstatic Dances

Chamber Music of Ross Edwards

$23   (Australian dollars)


buy at: AMC - Buywell - iTunes

Michael Askill (marimba)
David Bollard (piano)
Jo Dudley (recorder)
Lisa Moore (piano)
Patricia Pollett (viola)
Gwyn Roberts (cello)
Roger Smalley (piano)
The Song Company
Synergy Percussion
Nigel Westlake (clarinet)

One of Tall Poppies' most successful CDs, this collection of Edwards's chamber music juxtaposes his secular and sacred styles.

Flower SongsThe Song Company
EtymalongLisa Moore (piano)
Ecstatic DancePatricia Pollett (viola)
Gwyn Roberts (cello)
The Tower of RemotenessNigel Westlake (clarinet)
David Bollard (piano)
UlpirraJo Dudley (recorder)
Prelude and Dragonfly DanceSynergy Percussion
KumariRoger Smalley (piano)
Marimba DancesMichael Askill (marimba)


Review of this CD with Volume 2 (TP126)

The chamber and choral works recorded here span almost twenty years of Ross Edwards’ composing career, the earliest one being from 1978 (albeit revised and expanded in 1990) and the most recent from 1996. They thus provide for a fair survey of his present output. Most pieces here are fairly short, but one should not consider Ross Edwards as a miniaturist. Indeed, he also composed several large-scale works such as the marvellous violin concerto Maninyas (1988), the Symphony No.1 "Da Pacem" (1991) and the nocturne for percussion and orchestra Yarrageh (1989) – all three available on ABC Classics 8.770007 – as well as a substantial piano concerto (available on ABC Classics 426483-2). His output also includes several orchestral works and – among other – a Guitar Concerto, to name but a few.

Some of Edwards’ early works belong to what he describes as his ‘sacred’ pieces, which does not imply any real religious concern but rather alludes to their meditative character. In fact, these ‘sacred’ pieces are quite often inspired by the Australian landscape and nature. These include some piano pieces such as Etymalong (1984) and Kumari (1980) as well as The Tower of Remoteness (1978) for clarinet and piano superbly played here by fellow-composer Nigel Westlake. Another piece belonging to that same period, although a quite different one, is the ensemble piece Laikan (1979) composed for The Fires of London. In fact, the dance-like and song-like quality of much of the music in Laikan already points towards the style of what Edwards describes as his Maninya pieces. The Maninya pieces are often conceived as short diptychs alternating a song-like movement and a livelier, dance-like movement. Edwards composed a series of five Maninya pieces from 1981 to 1986 for various instrumental combinations that culminated with the beautifully lyrical violin concerto Maninyas that I for one consider as one of his finest achievements so far. The Maninya pieces often combine a joyous foot-stamping liveliness (the sort of thing that Reich also achieves in some of his works, such as the superb Tehilim) and a more meditative, almost trance-like lyricism. This is clearly to be heard in the beautiful Flower Songs for chorus and percussion, actually a choral Maninya that is one of the real gems in these discs.

As I mentioned earlier in this review, the earliest work recorded here, Ecstatic Dances, actually originates in a short flute duet composed to mark Peter Sculthorpe’s fiftieth birthday, that was later incorporated into Ecstatic Dances (1990) composed for the present flautist Geoffrey Collins. This short Maninya in all but the name also exists in several versions : flute duet (heard on TP 126), for viola and cello (heard on TP 051), for two violins and for two violas, whereas a string quartet version forms the last movement of Enyato I (1993).

Edwards composed four works all sharing the title of Enyato (meaning "contrast") : Enyato I for string quartet (1993), Enyato II for solo viola (heard on TP 126), Enyato III for orchestra (1995) and Enyato IV for bass clarinet and percussion (1995). So, again, Enyato II composed for Patricia Pollett, is yet another diptych made of a contemplative slow movement and a livelier Maninya.
As I have already remarked, Edwards’ music often displays a joyous dance-like character, also to be heard in the choral piece Dance Mantras (1992) for chorus and drum setting a few Latin words ("May the grace of the Holy Spirit be with you"), beginning in a rather subdued way but progressively building-up to an assertive conclusion. This short piece is also devised in such a way, that it may be sung by a small mixed chorus as well as by a choir of 700 singers. The other choral work here, however, is quite different in mood and intent; and, as such, something of a rarity in Edwards’ output. Ab Estatis Foribus sets four texts from the well-known manuscript of Benedictbeuren in Bavaria (yes, the celebrated Carmina Burana) and includes a setting of Prudentiusí famous Hymnus ante Somnum ("Hymn before Sleep"). The composer admits that these straightforward, tuneful settings have an archaic quality and "a strong element of pastiche" (well, not so, to my mind). The end result is an engaging choral sequence that repays repeated hearings and deserves wider exposure.

These discs fully demonstrate Edwards’ mastery in handling some less familiar instrumental combinations, such as percussion quartet in Prelude and Dragonfly Dance, marimba in what has become one of his most popular works Marimba Dances or clarinet and percussion in the equally attractive Binyang. Neither is he afraid of writing solo pieces for some unexpected instruments such as shakuhachi (Japanese bamboo flue) in Raft Song at Sunrise (a really fine piece, entirely his own and without any attempt at mimicking some Japanese music) and recorder in the extremely short but delightful Ulpirra.

So, in short, this survey of some of Edwards’ chamber and choral music is most welcome. It perfectly illustrates the often happy, unpretentious music making of this endearing composer. His music as heard here is perfectly balanced and never outstays its welcome. I enjoyed these discs enormously, and I now hope that we will soon have a recording of the Maninya series and the Enyato series as well as more of his orchestral music.

Hubert Culot
Musicweb International

No matter how much the composer protests – and he does – one can still be forgiven for believing there are two Ross Edwards. The first (my personal favourite) composes music of brooding stillness, in which small musical calls – often just isolated chords – repeat timelessly, endlessly, gently nagging away at the limits of one's consciousness. The other Ross Edwards makes you want to dance. Both composers turn up on a new disc entitled Ecstatic Dances, and subtitled, promisingly, Chamber Music: Volume One. As with the award-winning ABC Classics recording which contains Edwards's Symphony: Da pacem Domina, this new release from Tall Poppies explores the two extremes of this composer's utterly distinctive work There are eight works in all, and it seems unfair to pick highlights. But Jo Dudley's performance of the tiny Ulpirra for solo recorder is a gem, and the solo piano works Etymalong and Kumari receive rapt advocacy from Lisa Moore and Roger Smalley respectively .ore than half of these performances have been taken from other recordings, but even if you already have those recordings, this anthology is worthwhile for the proximity of the pieces and the consequent interleaving of music by the two Ross Edwards.
© Andrew Ford
24 Hours, July 1995

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