CIMF review / Three ways to experience new music

Music / CIMF Concert 8: “From the Letter to the Law”. At the National Library of Australia, National Portrait Gallery and the High Court of Australia. Monday, April 30. Reviewed by ROB KENNEDY

At the High Court, a row of harps was waiting to be plucked by the Seven Harp Ensemble… Photo by Peter Hislop.

A CONCERT of new music by Australian composers over three locations was always going to be one that spiked interest, and walking between venues on a brisk autumn Canberra morning made it even more motivating.

Beginning at the National Library with Roger Smalley’s “Nine Lives“, this witty song cycle about cats was performed by mezzo-soprano Kate Howden and CIMF director Roland Peelman on piano. The amusing lyrics, all about cats and their entertaining behaviour worked well against the bright and dark music of the piano. Howden’s voice penetrated the NLA with authority, amazing volume and a subtle tension, as Peelman’s strong playing accompanied with precision.

Over in the National Portrait Gallery, three works by Mary Finsterer were performed. “Tract” was for solo cello played by Christopher Pidcock, this was a work of harmonics, slides, grinds, slaps and showy techniques that was more sound than music. “Spherica” for two violins played by Veronique Serret and Anna da Silva Chen, began with high haunting harmonics that created a ghostly atmosphere. This sound continued for most of the 13-minute piece; it was an interesting musical idea that kept the audience captivated.

“Ignis” with James Wannan, viola d’amore and Christopher Pidcock cello played this sublime world premiere. This sad song exuded that old-world setting of an intimate baroque piece. Both players performed this delicious work with style and high craft; it showed the diverse talents of Mary Finsterer who is the CIMF composer-in-residence.

At the High Court, a row of harps was waiting to be plucked by the Seven Harp Ensemble. The Martin Wesley-Smith piece, “Seven Widows at the Gates of Sugamo” had a dark nature through its story about the trials of Japanese war crimes of  World War II. Once heard, this music will haunt forever. The poignant subject matter, the intriguing sound that seven harps can make along with a solo soprano, voiced by one of the harpists and from behind a wall, a male tenor telling a story of anger and sorrow – amazing stuff.

Sharon Calcraft’s “Sevenfold Amen” is an auditory image of cicadas singing, which was surprisingly effective and life-like. The driving sound swelled as cicadas sounds do, until what seemed like the telling of the cicadas dying away as the music did.

“Fantasia No 13 – Perpetuum Mobile” written by Larry Sitsky for the seven harps began delicately and then slowly built to a powerful pulse that grew into a tsunami of swirling sound. It was a highly inventive composition played with amazing clarity, in a concert of diverse and innovative Australian music.

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