Island Songs

 

Amy Dickson (saxophone)

Sydney Symphony Orchestra

TPT: 60’ 13”

ABC Classics 481 1703

reviewed by Neville Cohn

 

COVER_Amy_Dickson_-_Island_Songs_masterTo listen to the music of Peter Sculthorpe is to be drawn instantly into a unique sound and mood world  – and this is exquisitely apparent in his Island Songs, one of his last scores and written expressly for saxophonist extraordinaire Amy Dickson.

 

Calling an enchanted conch shell to mind, Dickson’s opening statement draws one ineluctably into Sculthorpe’s imaginative sound environment with the saxophone line beautifully set off by dark-toned utterances from the strings of Sydney Symphony Orchestra.

 

Finely scored percussion provides an intriguing counter-argument to a lulling, nostalgia-drenched solo line.

 

Song of Home is followed by a slowly unfolding, hushed account of Lament and Yearning. Avian twitterings  remind one of the composer’s enduring love of, and nostalgia for, the remoteness of outback Australia with which he identified so profoundly.

 

Here, every superfluous sound is scrupulously removed, the antithesis of, say, a good deal of the music of Mendelssohn, so often expressed in seemingly endless streams of rapid semiquavers. Not here, though. This is an exercise in which the least says the most, where less is more and there’s not a superfluous sound, each note carefully considered like precious gemstones, each immaculately positioned and set.

A drum tap here, a gentle harp utterance there, a cello’s deep, velvety note.

 

Benjamin Northey takes the SSO through an impeccable accompaniment.

 

Brett Dean’s The Siduri Dances is fascinating fare with saxophone flourishes that call bursts of fireworks to mind – and brief arabesques that evoke images of some inspired dance activity. Dickson is in impressive form, not least in virtuosic passages which she offers in flawless taste. Benjamin Northey presides over events, coaxing a lightly coloured accompaniment from the SSO, ideal for both the work’s more reflective moments and high-register, chatter-box virtuosity from the soloist.

 

A lengthy unaccompanied solo comes across with beautifully controlled tone, followed by what might be thought of as a frenetic conversation between voluble birds. Here, Dickson triumphs in a score replete with traps for all but the most adept and secure of soloists.

 

In Full Moon Dances, a concerto for alto saxophone and orchestra, Ross Edwards gives us a work to cherish, much of it couched in exquisitely gentle terms.

 

Are those castanets in the distance?  Delightfully light-textured instrumentation with gentle gong-like sounds present a fine background for Dickson’s very slowly unfolding saxophone line.

 

Sanctus comes across in a gentle, quiet way, the players sounding as if drawing on the same reservoir of inspiration. The saxophone line whether tonally assertive or quietly introspective is played as if to the manner born. It comes across like a gentle benediction.

 

An irresistibly delightful, dance-like movement that oscillates between cheerful  insouciance and quiet reserve completes the work. There’s excellent work on cello here.

 

Miguel Harth-Bedova takes the SSO through a finely supportive accompaniment.

 

All in all, archetypal Edwards at his most persuasive. There’s a storm of applause at the close of this ‘live’ recording.

 

On the evidence of this fine recording, it is clear that Amy Dickson is a worthy successor to Peter Clinch who did so much to raise standards and expectations of fine performances on an instrument heard still far too infrequently in a concerto context.   –

 

 

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