Felicity Wilcox’s new disc, Uncovered Ground, draws together works from 2014 to 2018. It is the first recording of concert works by this Australian composer, highly experienced across a range of genres. Her music for theatre, radio and film includes over sixty soundtracks for the screen, but chamber works are the focus of this disc. Represented are short pieces, longer works and selected movements from full works.
The title work is one of the longer pieces on the disc, commissioned for performance by Ironwood and Ensemble Offspring. This in itself is an indication of the breadth of the composer’s output, as it brings together leading exponents of early and new music. Your reviewer was in the audience for the 2015 world première of this work, and recalls how the composer’s introduction enhanced understanding of the performance, as is so often the case. Wilcox likens the work to a rendered wall that is slowly chipped away to reveal delicate and ornamental forgotten detail. It’s a complex work, featuring instruments in both intimate conversations and larger, powerful groupings. Uncovered Ground is a work that will challenge our notions of the characteristics of both old and new music.
The composer’s interest in blending the old and the contemporary to create new forms is demonstrated in another centrepiece of the disc, selected movements from a 75-minute suite receiving its première performance at Vivid Sydney in 2014. Wilcox describes this piece, Gouttes d’un Sang Etranger, as a ‘recomposition’ of a 1717 suite by Marin Marais. Here it is rescored for different instrumentation, including electronic sound as before but without the spoken word and images of the Vivid presentation. The movements are spread amongst other works on the disc, which provides variety and an intriguing mix of juxtapositions and oppositions. At first glance the program notes are a little confusing as they group the Gouttes pieces together rather than in presentation order, but one quickly sees the advantage of this in gaining an understanding of the work as a whole. This reviewer found these ‘recomposed’ movements to be consistently absorbing, with many colours and contrasts. Here we savour the full range of the soundworld created: the delicate and the richly textured, the languid and the furiously explosive, the fragmentary and the extended passage work.
Wilcox is in full flight of inventiveness, with innovations in the use of conventional instruments and multiple electronic techniques.
The other major piece on the disc is Vivre Sa Vie, Composer’s Cut, Wilcox’s original music for her own (shorter) cut of Jean-Luc Godard’s film (which was originally scored by Michel Legrand). Commissioned by the Australia Ensemble for performance in 2017, it is a spirited and impish work, again demonstrating Wilcox’s ability to control a range of moods and temperaments. Teasing, quieter passages contrast with swiftly-moving dramatic flourishes; dance-like lighthearted moments transition to dynamic action scenes, all ending with a quiet reflective passage that gives way to a boots-and-all climactic finish.
Smaller pieces are interwoven amongst these featured works. There is a movement, performed by Sydney Art Quartet, from the composer’s first string quartet, which is written for two movements which may be played in either order. The disc opens with People of this Place, the composer’s reflection on her experience of living on unceded Aboriginal lands. The work is written for Jason Noble’s bass clarinet, which is a wonderfully expressive vehicle for the composer’s ideas and seems to reach into one’s very soul.
The final work on the disc is Falling, the second movement from her trio Snow, for clarinet, cello and piano. It is a slow, serene and thoughtful piece that provides the perfect wind-down to the disc, leaving the listener with a restored sense of being at peace with the world.
Uncovered Ground is an attractively presented showcase of Felicity Wilcox’s recent chamber works, offering listeners a refreshingly different perspective on both new and old music.
Uncovered Ground is available now through MOVE Records here