It is an important cultural event when one of Australia’s leading composers has a premiere of a work performed by one of Australia’s most iconic new-music groups, Halcyon and even more so when the text is by David Malouf, one of our national living treasures. Gordon Kerry’s Three Malouf Songs is a substantial new addition to the repertoire. The first song, Stars, with its very unsettling music, draws the listener into a world where David Malouf’s painterly text stirs Kerry to make music of equal imagination. Delightful instrumental colours and sensitive vocal writing make Rockpools and the ensuing interlude the perfect bridge to the main musical/text argument – Glasshouse Mountains. In this song Kerry mimics the dreamy and deep sentiments that Malouf creates in a poem that both feels comfortable and at the same time, disturbing. This short cycle intrigues and I would like to hear it again as its numerous layers will keep on giving. Jenny Duck-Chong with Ewan Foster, Geoffrey Gartner and Daniel Herscovitch were perfect champions of the first performance. The audience reacted enthusiastically to the presence of both composer and poet.
Elliot Gyger’s setting of Petit Testament by the fictional Ern Malley starts with vocal silliness and a quasi-Boulez piano part morphing into a dream-like/nightmarish music. The work continues with a successful conceit – splitting the voice of one fictional poet into two sometimes warring entities, the voice of the two devious poets who made ‘Ern Malley’, James McAuley and Harold Stewart. Petit Testament is fun piece and beautifully written – delicious vocal writing and an elegant piano part and it’s performance must have been an absolute hoot for the wonderful musicians –singers Alison Morgan, Jenny Duck-Chong and pianist Daniel Herscovitch.
It is rare nowadays to hear the music of Margaret Sutherland (1897-1984) in concert and more the pity. Her Woman’s Song, Midnight and Winter Kestrel to poems by Judith Wright is music full of honesty and a desire to be of its time. A fine interpretation from Duck-Chong and Herscovitch.
As a tribute at the near one year anniversary of the composer’s death the inclusion Roger Smalley’s 1991 Piano Trio seemed most appropriate as it mines the works of Chopin, Brahms with hints of Bach through to the romantic Russians and all the time there is a relentless confusion about the purpose of music. Maybe that is the composer’s life – a summing up of all that has gone before through the perspective of the here and now.