CD Review: Kingfisher – Songs for Halcyon


Kingfisher – Songs for Halcyon, is a recording of 21 songs by living Australasian composers, performed by the new music ensemble Halcyon. Released on the Tall Poppies label (TP 236) last month, the project was the brainchild of Halcyon’s founders and core performers, soprano Alison Morgan and mezzo-soprano Jenny Duck-Chong, to commemorate Halcyon’s 15th anniversary and leave a lasting legacy of contemporary Australian song.

For Kingfisher, Alison Morgan and Jenny Duck-Chong are joined by five instrumentalists – flautist Laura Chislett Jones, clarinettist Jason Noble, cellist Geoffrey Gartner and percussionists William Jackson and Joshua Hill.

The composers represent some of the most respected men and women in 21st century Antipodean music who have worked with Halcyon over the years, creating new works for singers and instrumentalists, and who were invited by Halcyon to write a song for inclusion on the recording. The performers and the composers have the singular advantage of having collaborated  on many projects from which has emerged a solid understanding of each others’ creativity.

Twelve of the songs are for two voices and instruments, one (Rosalind Page’s Aquila’s Wing), is for voices only and the remainder are for one voice and instrument/s. Totalling 78 minutes of music, none of the songs are overly lengthy, the longest being just over 6 minutes (Nicholas Vines’ A King’s Manifesto)and the briefest lasting just over  1  1/2 minutes ( Paul Stanhope’s My Love in Her Attire).

The unifying theme of the songs is that they are all inspired by the concept ‘halcyon’, through its many meanings as a word or in its reference to the ensemble. Addressing this notion, the songs embrace a spectrum of moods and styles.

The voices of Alison Morgan and Jenny Duck-Chong are pure and seamlessly blended. They desist from vibrato and demonstrate tremendous agility, covering large intervals and rapid changes of register. The repertoire demands – and receives – great security of pitch and breath control; the songs include pieces of great lyricism and euphony as well as those that are atonal and those which call for extended vocal techniques.

The selected texts come from a variety of sources. Three of the composers (Vines, Page and Andrew Schultz) have written their own words. Others are taken from ancient tomes likes the Bhagavad Gita  (Ross Edwards’ The Tranquil Mind); yet others are by recognised writers like D H Lawrence(Dan Walker’s The Mystic Blue), Walt Whitman (Raffaele Marcellino’s Turbulent Passions Calm) and Emily Dickinson (Moya Henderson’s  I Lost a World the Other Day).

The overriding ambience of the songs is calming; the voices shimmer and flow; the word painting is graphic. The instrumental musicians vary from anchoring the music to partnering with the voices, their own special expertise and at times, abstract use of instruments add to the palette of moods and colours.

A sizeable booklet of 14 leaves accompanies the CD. It contains the texts of all the songs, insights from all 21 composers, the  biographies of the composers and the 7 performers and a background to the project. The recording was made at Sydney’s Trackdown Scoring Stage during the middle of 2014.

Kingfisher – Songs for Halcyon is a substantial project. It has expanded significantly the repertoire of contemporary Australian song, leaving an enduring gift for the future. As well, Halcyon has brought these songs to life, by performing and recording them, so that they may be heard and enjoyed here and now, interpreted as their creators intended.

Shamistha de Soysa for SoundsLikeSydney©

Click here to read an interview with Jenny Duck-Chong as she discusses the project.

Click here to read a review of a concert performance of some of the songs from Kingfisher – Songs for Halcyon.




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