New Zealand Women Composers

0 of 5 stars

The Structure of Memory
For Seven
Ahotu (O Matenga)
Monkey Trips

Rowland Sutherland (flutes)
Christopher Redgate (oboe)
Andrew Sparling (clarinet)
Timothy Holmes (bass clarinet)
Dick Skinner (bassoon)
Tracy Holloway (trombone)
Dominic Saunders (piano & percussion)
Tim Murray (harpsichord & celeste)
Richard Benjafield (percussion)
Caroline Balding (violin & viola)
Marina Ascherson (viola)
Robin Michael (cello)
Corrado Canonici (double bass)
Odaline de la Martinez

Recorded on 30 May & 1 June 2003 at Christ’s Hospital, Sussex

Reviewed by: William Yeoman

Reviewed: September 2005
Duration: 64 minutes

This disc from Lorelt – Lontano and Odaline de la Martinez’s own label dedicated to recording “contemporary composers, women composers throughout history and Latin American composers from all centuries” – features the work of four New Zealand women composers. Throughout, the playing is vigorous, precise and imaginative, and helps each composer to emerge as a highly characterful voice with a subtle narrative to impart.

Dorothy Ker studied with John Rimmer, Milton Babbitt, Nicola Lefanu and Sir Harrison Birtwistle – and it shows. Hers is perhaps the most difficult language for the listener to assimilate. The Structure of Memory represents the workings of time and “the very act of remembrance”; ten players elaborate the unstable fabric that is memory. Different instrumental groups form and break up before sinking into silence. The music is sometimes meditative, sometimes rhapsodic. Winds, trombone, strings and percussion whirl across a spatial void like Mirò’s playful creations before the players’ vocalisations herald an almost-familiar alien landscape.

For Seven by Jenny McLeod (born 1941) was written for Stockhausen’s ensemble during her period of study at the New Music Course in Cologne (1965-66). A variable polyphonic texture across all parameters paradoxically provides a highly structured framework around which more improvisatory elements play. There are luminous moments where harmonics predominate and cadenza-like passages often threaten to tear apart the more disciplined aspects of the work.

Gillian Whitehead (also born in 1941) is an enormously prolific composer who enjoys numerous commissions. Ahotu (O Matenga) was written as “food” for her father’s journey to the afterlife (‘ahotu’ is the Maori for a phase of the moon, and ‘o matenga’ for the journey from life to death). Quiet though frenzied activity from the soloists, strongly rhythmic passages and discernible motifs gather gradually to disperse in the echoing corridors of eternity at the end of the work. The piece is also notable for the extra colours gained by the use of a harpsichord.

Annea Lockwood (born 1939) and Lontano’s Monkey Trips (the work is largely improvised around a structure provided by the composer) illustrates the “Tibetan Buddhist metaphor of the six states/realms of being which we constantly recreate and assume to be reality”. Consequently, the piece moves seamlessly through six sections: the Heavenly Realm (violin); the Jealous Gods (percussion); the Human Realm (cello); the Animal Realm (bass clarinet); the Realm of the Hungry Spirits (clarinet); and the Hell Realm (percussion). Each section features the soloist against a (usually) shimmering backdrop; there are allusions to Tibetan pentatonic music; in the Human Realm and the Hell Realm human voices again play a part, whether in whooping and whistling like wild animals or laughing ironically amid frenzied drumming.

This is an interesting and challenging release of material that deserves a wide audience: full marks to Lorelt for making these pieces available. The recorded sound is spacious, clean and natural.

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