Ross Edwards: Symphonies 1 & 4 (CD)

ABC Classics & Jazz
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Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, Richard Mills

Two majestic pieces by Australian composer Ross Edwards are presented on this album. Da pacem Domine is a prayer for peace, grounded in human ritual, whereas Star Chant reflects the eternal grandeur of the night sky and includes a chorus singing the names of the celestial features in various Aboriginal languages.

Star Chant’, premiered to great acclaim at the 2002 Adelaide Festival, was composed in collaboration with astronomer Fred Watson, who provided the text, and deep space photographer David Malin, whose images accompanied the first performance. Fred Watson writes: "This musical fusion of art and science represents a journey through Australia’s night skies. It celebrates the stars in western and aboriginal culture with names taken from both ancient European legend and the Dreamtime stories of many different indigenous peoples…"

Performed by the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra with the Adelaide Chamber Singers and the Adelaide Philharmonia Chorus conducted by Richard Mills, both pieces will leave you contemplating the nature of our existence.

Recorded 4-7 February and 12-13 March 2002, Adelaide Town Hall, Adelaide

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Symphony No. 1, "Da pacem Domine"

Symphony No. 4, "Star Chant"
I. The Northern Sky
II. The Southern Sky

Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, Richard Mills


This fascinating disc pairs the first and fourth symphonies of Australian composer Ross Edwards. Separated by a decade, they demonstrate Edwards’ developing symphonic idiom and his consistency over time.

It would not be unfair to describe Edwards as Australia's holy minimalist. There is a kinship between his music and that of Arvo Pärt, despite differences of form and colouring. His mature works – both of these are symphonies belonging to that category – are characterised by lightness of touch, and a spirituality drawn in part from Christian mysticism. Hildegard von Bingen and William Blake are two influences named in passing in the booklet notes. He also draws in part on the natural world, understood and experienced mostly through the landscape of Australia. While his harmonic language is close to that of other Australian and American neo-Romantics, there is a reflectiveness and a sense of ritual in his music which is uniquely his.

The First Symphony is written as a single movement, a long sighing adagio that is Brucknerian in its nobility and yearning. A fragment of Gregorian chant, repeated and refracted, is at the symphony’s core. Edwards lays down a carpet of lush string sound, lit by smooth incantations from the horns and a gentle touches of tuned percussion. It builds to a broad brass chorale around the 11:46 mark, peaking again at around 18 minutes before fading away. It is a moving piece of music, deceptive in its simplicity.

The Fourth Symphony is cast in two movements, the first depicting the northern night sky and the second the southern night sky, as viewed from the Australian outback away from the pollution of city lights.

The northern night sky opens with mystery, with low strings growling a descending two note motif below the chanting chorus. The movement’s mood shifts to one of ecstatic ritual from about 10:45, with upper strings, brass and winds brightening before a twinkling of percussion. The southern night sky is generally upbeat with passages of Philip Glass rhythms and bright interjections from violins, before the chill of mystery returns and the music dies away. Throughout the piece, the choir chants the names of stars in various languages, supporting the sense of ritual at the core of Edwards’ work.

Edwards' fellow Australian composer, Richard Mills, leads the excellent Adelaide Symphony Orchestra in thoroughly prepared and deeply felt readings of both scores. A third Australian composer, Gordon Kerry, provides the detailed and eminently readable liner notes.

This is a first class production from ABC Classics that deserves to find a wide audience.

Tim Perry, MusicWeb International

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