CD review: Music of the Commonwealth/ HD Duo

Music of the Commonwealth/ HD Duo

DA Vinci Classics

HD Duo, comprising saxophonist Michael Duke and pianist David Howie have recently added to their discography with an interesting cross-cultural project entitled Music of the Commonwealth released on Da Vinci Classics.

It’s an interesting concept from the duo who have been performing together since 2008. Music of the Commonwealth aims to present music from the 54 nations of the Commonwealth. Different aesthetics, modes and rhythms will be brought together in performance by piano and saxophone. Whilst the piano has an undeniably Western cultural sound, the saxophone can sound like a wind instrument of a number of different origins form the countryside to the recital hall.

Funded by the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust Music of the Commonwealth is intended to be a series of CDs containing one new work from each Commonwealth country. This first release contains music by composers from Australia, Canada, UK, Malta, Cyprus and Sri Lanka. Beginning in 2018, HD Duo commissioned the composers to contribute a chamber work for saxophone and piano. The aim of the project “to enhance and strengthen links between countries of the Commonwealth, greatly increasing cultural awareness and understanding.”

Stephen Chatman from Canada takes the opening tracks with his Six Preludes for alto saxophone and piano, Moonlight, Labyrinth, Crimson, Joy, Silence and Frenzy. The individual titles speak for themselves. The pieces are alternately hypnotic and feverish, pitting chromatic virtuosity against legato line. My only observation being that the sequencing of these short pieces by the composer creates quick changes in the character of the pieces and mitigates against being able to settle into a mood.

The Man in the Wind and the West Moon for alto saxophone and piano by Stephen McNeff from the United Kingdom, is described as a “fantasy in three continuous sections” inspired by the Dylan Thomas poem And death shall have no dominion, from which this line derives. Introspective, then playful and lyrical, it is eminently listenable and at 13 minutes it is the longest piece in the collection.

Maltese composer Ruben Zahra’s music is described as being influence by classical, rock, jazz, ethnic and contemporary elements. His Boiling Clouds for soprano saxophone and piano is a multi-metric, high-octane ride, through riffs and modal melody from the saxophone with cluster chords, toccata passages and a relentless rhythmic bass from the piano.

Nostos for alto/soprano saxophone and piano by Aris Antoniades from Cyprus is named for the Greek word describing a homecoming. Nostos is a charming trio of pieces A Morning in the Village, Grandmother Maroulla’s Stories and Ritual Dance (“Leventikos”). They are built from wistful memories of family and the complex, infectious rhythms of Cypriot folk dance.

Unlike the other pieces, we are not given an insight into Australian Brenton Broadstock’s thinking as he wrote Hammerblow, except to be quoted lines by Ibsen. This 11-minute piece starts off with a riot of percussive and acoustic sounds, settling into an elegy punctuated by busy, chasing passages before returning to its virtuosic final section. It received two performances in 2018 at international saxophone conferences in Singapore and Zagreb, excellent showcases for the dissemination of new music.

Airs of Lanka for tenor saxophone and piano by Sri Lankan Pradeep Ratnayake begins with a prayer-like dawn chant. It moves to dancing themes drawing on indigenous melodies, the piano charged with a pretty tintinnabular passage. There is little information on the composition but the composer boasts an impressive CV.

Music of the Commonwealth is creating entertaining new works, expertly performed, which broaden the depth and breadth of repertoire for saxophone and piano. Pianists take note – the role of the keyboard is very much that of an equal, soloistic partner. The workshopping of the pieces between performers and composers, has ensured I expect, excellence in writing for both the saxophone and piano, as well as embracing a wider cultural purpose.

Shamistha de Soysa for SoundsLikeSydney©


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