King of the Air – The Charles Kingsford Smith Musical

Music and Lyrics by Gavin Lockley

Lyrics and Book by Ann Blainey

The Metropolitan Orchestra & The Rum Corps Choir
Sarah-Grace Williams (Conductor)

Simon Tedeschi (Solo Pianist)


The writing of a musical is an extraordinary feat by anyone’s measure. Australian stories abound which lend themselves to the musical theatre genre. In the story of Charles Kingsford Smith (Smithy), Australia’s greatest pioneering aviator, is found a dramatic story of epic proportions, most notably, the first crossing of the Pacific Ocean from the United States of America to Brisbane, taking 10 days in 1928.

cks_L96364_350In Australian history, Smithy is one of its greatest heroes and most iconic personalities, whose name now adorns Sydney’s airport as a mark of permanent tribute to this great aviator. His tragic death in a missing plane incident over the Andaman Sea in 1935 turned this Aussie hero into a legend.

This recording presents the songs to be found in the yet to be staged musical, and celebrates the aviator’s erstwhile achievements, his fame and tragic death. (The first concert staging of the musical was held in March 2014 at City Recital Hall, Angel Place, Sydney, and 3 workshop style performances were given in Nov-Dec 2013 at Trackdown Studios at Fox Studios, Sydney.)

Without seeing the visual spectacular that could be realised on stage, the recording reveals an engrossing tale unfolding orchestral beauty (commencing with the romantically lush King of the Air Piano Concerto), juxtaposed with Big Band episodes, Australiana passages (including a retake on Waltzing Matilda), ballads (Drink ‘til You Drop), dramatic film music sequences (Crossing the Pacific), and great musical theatre pieces, such as I Want to Fly (the standout solo song with the marvelous voice of Daniel Belle).

The composer has a gift for this genre, being a skilled songwriter and orchestrator, seeming to know what exactly will work for a modern theatre audience. The songs here certainly provide accessible solo material for any musical theatre singer’s repertoire.

SymphOfAust_KOTA_cover_image_D1__06698_stdSlower reflective numbers, such as Bring My Boy Back to me (sung by Meredith O’Reilly), I Don’t Want a Hero, and Down the Sweep of Ages (both sung by Renae Martin), contrast cleverly with the inspirational anthem Hang Out the Flags (sung by Philip Dodd). There is the obligatory love duet, There’s Magic in the Air Tonight (Daniel Belle and Renae Martin), and even a Gershwinesque song, New York Ticker Tape Parade.

An operatic moment provided by international soprano Yvonne Kenny AM appears in I’m Coming Home to Australia, and easily could have been plucked out of an earlier era and sung by the likes of Dame Nellie Melba, with its distinctly nostalgic air.

Showing hints of Frank Wildhorn or Stephen Schwartz, Lockley has created a stunning duo in I Can’t Turn Back (sung by Daniel Belle and Renae Martin).

Now, the next big challenge, for composer Gavin Lockley and his team, is to mount this as a fully staged production. From the songs on this disc, there seems to be much merit in such a proposition, thus bringing the heroic achievements of our greatest aviating legend to the stage for all to see.

Emma Matthews: Mozart Arias

Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra

Conducted by Marko Letonja

ABC 481 0776

Here are some firsts. Emma Matthews reveals that this recording is the first recording of her singing Queen of the Night (The Magic Flute), and Susanna (The Marriage of Figaro). She also reveals that the notion of recording came about many years ago (2008).

481 0776 Emma Matthews - Mozart Arias digital coverClearly, Emma Matthews is one of this country’s finest stars of the operatic stage, both within Australia and internationally. This recording of operatic and concert arias is a real delight, with its sumptuous orchestral accompaniment being equally matched by superbly delicious vocal artistry by Matthews.

Some lesser known operatic arias that Matthews brings out from the shadows are Lieve sono al par del vento (I am as fickle as the breeze) from Il sogno di Scipione, and Ruhe sanft, mein holdes Leben (Rest gently, my dear one) from Zaide, and these balance the well known arias from The Magic Flute, the Queen of the Night aria with its powerful coloratura, and the contrasted, reflective aria Ach, ich fuhls (Alas, I feel it), as well as Susanna’s aria, Dove sono from The Marriage of Figaro.

The four concert arias (KV 418, 272, 538, 217) rarely get a hearing now, but they display extremes of vocal range, demanding changes in dynamic and emotional setting, with Matthews executing them with ease and agility.

Matthews singing on this Mozart Arias CD is pure seduction of the ears!

Empires: Latitude 37

ABC 481 0483

Lattitude 37 logoAnyone who has an interest in the 17th century will love this disc. It is remarkable for its attention to authentic performance practice. The three members who make up this relatively new ensemble all learnt their craft at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague, a great centre for early music.

Baroque violinist, Julia Fredersdoff and violas da gamba player Laura Vaughan both come from Melbourne, and with harpsichordist Donald Nicolson from New Zealand, form Latitude 37, named after the latitudinal position which links Melbourne to New Zealand. They are joined on this recording by a variety of other artists who play such instruments as the oud, daf, riq, ceramic dahola, viola da gamba and violine.

The music reflects influences of the Holy Roman Empire, the Ottoman Empire and the Lutheran Church. So it is a real blend of styles, which show the conflicts, tension and movement between the rival regions. You will hear Western keys are intermingled with Middle Eastern modes, and Arabic rhythmic intricacies blend with European meters.

Composers included here are Buxtehude, Gottfried Finger, Biber, Bernard, JC Bach and Dimitrie Cantemir (a Moldavian prince who became a great scholar of Turkish classical music while living in Constantinople).

There are numerous short pieces (mostly dance-like pieces) without a known composer, but each selection sheds some new musical nuance or compositional gem for the ear. Along with Sonatas and Trio Sonatas, there are two songs for male alto as well, one by JC Bach and the other by Bernhard.

The performances on this CD are captivating in every way. The music is engaging, alive and flawlessly played. It is a re-discovery of much early music that will intrigue for its colour and exotic nature. This is a trio that is deserving of widespread awareness in the music world.

Beethoven: Symphony No 9 “Choral” – Australian World Orchestra

Australian World Orchestra

Sydney Philharmonia Choir

Conductor: Alexander Briger

ABC 481 0550

481 0550 AWO Beethoven 9The scale of a work such as Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is truly staggering. Whilst the work has been overused for civic celebratory events, the concert experience (and this recording, which originates from a live concert in the Sydney Opera House) is something that can touch listeners in profound ways.

The complexity of the music is only equalled by its challenging compositional ideas, along with the treatment of text (by Schiller), and the fusion of what, for the most part, are incompatibles, that is, the choral and the symphonic idiom.

Structurally, the work is really a set of variations, showing a total connection from beginning to end. These totally new elements (the unconventional symphonic layout and the use of words within a symphony) helped to underline, in the public’s mind, that Beethoven had truly gone mad.

opera_orcThis particular recording emanated from one of the most exciting of recent concert events, the inaugural season by the newly created Australian World Orchestra, an initiative to bring together the finest of Australian orchestral musicians from around the country and across the world. Thus, it saw players return from such illustrious orchestras as the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonics, Chicago and London Symphonies, the Concertgebouw and Gewandhaus, to be part of this concept orchestra.

Bringing the whole project together, as its artistic and musical director, was conductor Alexander Briger, who has established himself on the world stage as one of the new dynamic conductors of this era.

r1167973_14802731With total command and intelligent insight, Briger produced a remarkable concert (and thus CD recording) of extraordinarily powerful music, with playing that possessed the richness and assertiveness of a thoroughly seasoned orchestra.

Bringing this grand tutti of a work to a conclusion in the mighty finale movement, with its anthem-like passages, are four soloists in fine voice, Cheryl Barker (soprano), Elizabeth Campbell (mezzo soprano), Steve Davislim (tenor), Teddy Tahu Rhodes (bass), along with the full-voiced singing of the Sydney Philharmonia Choir.

Symphony of Australia – The First Musical History of our Nation

(Second edition – 2013)

Music and Lyrics by Gavin Lockley

Book compiled by Michael Crouch AO

ISBN 978 0 980 40802 7 (Hardback with CD)

Following a performance of Lockley’s setting of the iconic Dorothea McKellar poem, My Country, came the inspiration to create a six movement Symphonic Poem (complete with vocal and instrumental solos, as well as choral episodes), which endeavours to capture a picture of Australia, its history, land, people, hardships, culture, and spirit.

symphony-of-australia-1-x-hardcover-book-audio-cd-2Most people would be daunted by such a prospect, but Lockley did his research and mustered all of his creative energies to bring off what is a masterly piece of music, with immediate appeal.

The six movements are sequential: Dreamtime (the vision, the belief and the stories of Australia’s first peoples); The Ships (the arrival of European settlers on the First Fleet); The Red Centre (The Burke and Wills expedition, a story of pioneering courage); Pie Jesu (A lament for those Australians who have bravely given their lives for their country); Immigration Scherzo (A celebration of Australia’s multicultural identity); and finally, My Country Australia (A tribute to “a sunburnt country”).

The music perfectly juxtaposes consonance and dissonance, beauty and ruggedness, thick textures with simple moments. Didgeridoo and other non-western instruments are used to give a more authentic voice to some of the movements.

This premiere recording of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and a 100 voice choir is conducted by Brett Weymark,. It accompanies a glossy pictorial book with corresponding essays written by prominent Australians (NSW Governor, Her Excellency Professor Marie Bashir AC CVO, Sir Roger Carrick KCMG LVO, Professor Geoffrey Blainey AC, Former Deputy PM, Hon Tim Fischer AC, social demographer Hugh Mackay, former Governor-General, and Major General Michael Jeffery AC AO(Mil) CVO MC (Retd)), making it a worthy addition to any library, or gift for overseas friends or new Australians.

The complete package of book and CD is an aural, visual and literary feast.

Along with a Foreword by former PM, Hon John Howard OM AC, stunning photography and other illustrations work well with the composer’s notes in addition, giving a very complete picture of the nation, as well as of the task, itself.

The composer said of this work: “Symphony of Australia was something of a personal Everest for me”. His objective has been realized in enabling all who read the text and listen to its music, to celebrate Nationhood.

(This review was first published in Fine Music magazine, March 2014 )

Aheym – Kronos Quartet plays music by Bryce Dessner

ANTI 87296-2

The Grammy-award winning Kronos Quartet devotes itself to the new music of Bryce Dessner on this recent release. Based in New York City, Dessner, is a composer and performer, who is rising meteorically in the music world.

AheymCDcoverSome view Dessner as a pop artist, as he is a guitarist, however his intellect and training (he has a Master of Music degree from Yale) have enabled him to transcend tags to immerse himself in contemporary “classical” music.

The four works on this disc draw on personal ideas to create new musical responses. Aheym, meaning “homeward” in Yiddish, is a glance at his Jewish origins and a commemoration of a particular NY park. Little Blue Something is inspired by Czech folk music, and Tenebre, with pre-recorded vocals by Sufjan Stevens, is based on the Holy Week service of extinguishing candles. In Dessner’s hands, it takes on the more general (and inverse) view of moving from darkness to light. The beautiful choral tones of the Brooklyn Youth Choir feature in Tour Eiffel, along with electric guitar, piano, percussion and string quartet.

The Kronos Quartet’s performance is remarkably dynamic and intelligent. It is biting, edgy stuff, aligning with the thrust of this Quartet, which continues to explore new composers who have new things to say.

(This review was published in Fine Music magazine, March 2014.