Alicia masterfully puts recorders through their paces

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Recorder virtuoso Alicia Crossley. Photo: Peter Hislop

Music / “Muse”. Alicia Crossley and the Acacia Quartet. Wesley Uniting Church, December 13. Reviewed by ROB KENNEDY.

“MUSE” is a project brought to life by recorder virtuoso Alicia Crossley. It encompasses some of Australia’s best-known composers and musicians. 

Five composers were chosen to write music for recorder and string quartet. Alicia Crossley and the Acacia String Quartet performed the music.

The concert was moved into the Wesley Uniting Church due to a water leak in the music centre.

The Acacia Quartet is made up of Lisa Stewart, violin; Myee Clohessy, violin; Stefan Duwe, viola; Anna Martin-Scrase was unavailable and Paul Ghica filled in on cello. Alicia Crossley played a range of recorders and introduced each piece. The compositions were inspired by poetry, mythology, historic tunes and storybook characters. 

Crossley says that “Muse” was a passion project for her, which aims to increase and promote contemporary Australian recorder repertoire. Rarely is the combination of recorder and string quartet heard or seen anywhere, and that’s a pity because it works so well.

Beginning with the lively and jumpy music of “Three Bilitis Movements” from Lyle Chan. This quirky piece rocked and swayed through a highly stylised selection of inventive movements. The final movement was a different piece altogether. The smooth lyrical music with its warm and tender tones was full of voluptuous sound. It was simply gorgeous, as was the playing. The sensitivity in this piece was deeply felt.

Alicia Crossley with the Acacia Quartet. Photo: Peter Hislop

The mysterious work of “Yuya” by Anne Boyd was set within the Japanese Noh tradition. The tenor recorder fluttered, the cellist slapped and slid up the fingerboard, the other strings plucked away, and a high harmonic wafted over the top. This was much more than music; a sublime work.

Based on the 12th-century Spanish song, “Pass to us the cups with which sorrow is forgotten” by Chris Williams sat somewhere between the ether and ecstasy. It grew denser and more complex as the bass recorder carried a dance-like tune in parts. It was a stunning piece.

“Bat Music”, which is a fantastic title was another beautiful sounding work. When the composer Stephen Yates was asked what the title meant, he said he didn’t know. That idea of not knowing seemed to penetrate the work to a degree, while deliciously performed, it felt a little lost.

Over two movements, “Copenhagen Christmas” by Jessica Wells musically depicted mischievous Dutch gnomes. It was in character of what a listener might imagine a playful gnome would get up to. It sounded like popcorn popping. Through long-held notes, the second movement exhibited a feeling of warmth and cosiness. 

Loosely based on Alice in Wonderland, “Three by Three” by Sally Whitwell was fittingly curious and playful. It contained some clear writing and tuneful melodies. A range of recorders was required, and Crossley slipped between each seamlessly. This brought the concert to a delightful and happy end.

Crossley and Acacia brought out the best in these new, inventive and diverse works. This concert showcased not only the fine talents of the performers but the variety and quality of music that is being created by contemporary Australian composers.

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