Compositions by Michelle Nelson for solo guitar, harp and guitar, recorder and guitar, and for tenor ukulele.
This 46-minute CD is a new release on the MOVE label (MCD621) of compositions by the Melbourne composer, guitarist and educator, Michelle Nelson. Recorded from 2019 to April 2021, among the 22 short pieces there are some timeless themes (seasonal motifs, the death of a loved one) but also a group of 8 pieces called Isolation Suite, Nelson’s reflections on lockdown in Melbourne.
MOVE records has previously published an album of Nelson’s solo guitar work (Return to the Dance) and a CD of mostly solo work with a sonata for guitar and flute and a larger work for mandolin orchestra, After the Fire, which gives the CD its name. Looking at her website:
https://www.michellenelson.com.au these three CDs are only part of a much larger body of work catering for all levels of musicians, ranging from tutors and instructional pieces for younger players, chamber music, pieces for mandolin orchestra and string orchestra and including several concerti for guitar, recorder, flute and mandolin written for professional soloists.
Her compositional style is very accessible, mostly tonal and very well-written for the instruments she employs. This is not academic music – not the sort of music that a composer friend characterises as ‘stuff that only one in 5,000 players can play, and only one in 10,000 listeners can endure’. On the contrary; most good amateur players would be able to manage nearly all these pieces, and if that idea appeals to you, the scores are available from Michelle Nelson’s website.
The CD opens with two pieces for guitar and harp: Falling Ashes and Floating Free written after the death of Michelle’s father and the scattering of his ashes in the sea off Peterborough, Victoria. Most of the repertoire for harp and guitar appears to be arrangements, but it is a delightful combination and it is good to see some original works. Michelle Nelson is playing with the Melbourne harpist Megan Reeve and the two plucked string instruments interweave in a delicate threnody, with, in the second piece (Floating Free) a ‘seascape’ recorded background blended in.
The Three Pieces for Concert Ukulele are solo pieces for the concert ukulele, which is slightly larger than the most common size, the soprano ukulele. They can also be played on the next larger ukulele, the tenor, as both instruments have the same G/C/E/A tuning. Nelson has adapted some guitar techniques (e.g. tremelo) and produced some short pieces exploring the soloistic potential of the instrument. No performer is listed, so I assume that it is Nelson herself, displaying the eclecticism of her performance practice.
Eight Bagatelles for Recorder & Guitar
Her co-artist on these pieces is the Melbourne recorder player Will Hardy, on descant recorder. These are eight short pieces exploring various moods. The descant recorder is a cheerful sound, but rather shrill to my ears though of course the pieces could also be played effectively on the tenor, or indeed any C recorder. Hardy plays them expertly, with some occasional judicious ornamentation. A welcome addition to the repertoire for recorder and guitar.
Nelson’s Isolation Suite is a grouping of 8 related solo guitar pieces reflecting, as she puts it: ‘the rollercoaster of emotions and stress induced by the sudden loss of livelihood and social connection’. No doubt the lockdowns of the last two years will have inspired many other art works. On the one hand, artists have had the uninterrupted time to work at their art form, but on the other there is the depression and anxiety stemming from loss of income and the interruptions to their careers. Nelson’s response in this Isolation Suite is not all doom and gloom, with the second piece, Quietude, exploring the relief as the busy world slows and falls silent, and the fourth piece, Sunset Reflection, a jaunty finger-picking number. The seventh piece, Endure, expresses the frustration of lockdown with an incessantly repeated rhythmic figure, but the last: Flowers Still Bloom, is more hopeful as the first Melbourne lockdown ends and spring arrives.
I recommend Michelle Nelson’s work to music lovers, and these works in particular to amateur players. MOVE records is to be commended for supporting Australian composers, and APRA AMCOS for providing some financial assistance for the recording.
Flowers Still Bloom is available on MOVE records here