Album Review: Uncovered Ground – Felicity Wilcox Collected Chamber Works

Uncovered Ground – Felicity Wilcox Collected Chamber Works

Move Records

Released on the Move label, Uncovered Ground is a recording of chamber works by Australian composer and academic Felicity Wilcox. Wilcox has selected her best chamber music for this CD, performed by some of the glitterati of Australian ensemble performers, Ensemble Offspring, Ironwood and the Sydney Art Quartet who have also, amongst others, commissioned some of the pieces.

The ensembles on the disc are themselves a clue to the breadth of repertoire on this anthology which ranges from the contemporary to the Renaissance, indigenous Australian to European, manipulated and experimental to traditional. Wilcox’s writing is inventive and creates new frontiers in sound with her techniques and combinations of instruments from duos to octets. Special credit must go to Jason Noble who plays on most of the tracks. His expertise and virtuosic playing give new insights into the versatility of the bass clarinet, whether as an equal partner with the baroque cello, or reborn as a digeridoo or a bird of the outback.

Wilcox plays homage to the original owners of the land with her opening track, People of this Place. Here, Noble on bass clarinet, evokes the sounds of the didgeridoo, the dawn, birds and the desert adding flutter, multi-phonics and percussive effects. The title track Uncovered Ground embraces the old and the new, as baroque violin and modern instruments comprising an octet which includes piano (Benjamin Kopp), flutes (Lamorna Nightingale), percussion (Claire Edwardes) and bass clarinet, render both conventional and extended techniques in an exciting exploration of tonality.

Alongside her original compositions, Wilcox has included a bracket of pieces from her 75-minute work Gouttes d’un Sang Etranger inspired by Marin Marais’ Suitte d’un Goût Étranger, which she has re-worked with various compositional devices. In Tambourin we hear the sounds of the Renaissance, from the bass clarinet and baroque cello (Daniel Yeadon), plaintive and improvisatory; Le Tourbillon comprises a restless and haunting electronic interlude which leads to the whirling and rhythmically playful main piece.

Vivre Sa Vie, Composer’s Cut takes the idea of a conversation amongst instruments – effectively an instrumental recitative in French which mimics the spoken word. Flutes, bass clarinet, piano and percussion all have a voice, ending in a glorious riot of sound.

The manipulated tones of La Reveuse – Coda echo reverberantly, back and forth in time; the first movement SON, from SON-ombra, Wilcox’s two-movement String Quartet no. 1 explores the intriguing concept of sonic traces or shadows in sound before returning to the Marais/Wilcox piece from which we hear Fragments 1-1V, with its loops and random repetition, this time featuring the soprano saxophone (Nathan Henshaw) with the viola da gamba (Anthea Cottee) in the electronic section. Jason Noble on clarinet and Daniel Yeadon on viola da gamba perform the Renaissance inspired segments.

Falling, from Snow, Movement 2 is the exquisite second movement from Wilcox’s trio for clarinet piano and cello. It is every bit the ‘reverent quality of calm’ inspired by snowfall that Wilcox aims to convey, performed by Noble on clarinet, Freya Schack Arnott on cello and Wilcox herself at the piano.

The ten tracks on Uncovered Ground amount to 66 minutes of music. The CD booklet contains Wilcox’s account of her reasonings behind what she has written. Her explanation of her techniques go a long way towards understanding what she has done in taking art music into the 21st century. She also proves that as she presses the ‘play’ button on the music of the future, she doesn’t hit the ‘delete’ button on music of the past. She has drawn on it for inspiration, inclusion and elaboration. Whilst the early music tracks felt like slipping to a familiar and comfortable armchair, Wilcox’s contemporary compositions are clever, stimulating and very well thought through.

Shamistha de Soysa for SoundsLikeSydney©



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