Dean: Water Music, Pastoral Symphony, Carlo / Gruber, Swedish CO

Regular price $21.99
Added to Cart! View cart or continue shopping.
Excellent performances and superb recording of some of Dean’s most endearing works.

Several recent records released by ABC Classics and BIS have given Brett Dean’s music the wider exposure that it undoubtedly deserves. The works on this brand new disc tend to confirm Dean’s status as a highly personal composer. He emerges as a composer whose music tackles contemporary issues in purely musical terms rather than in the bluntly polemical ones that one might have expected. For example, Pastoral Symphony and Water Music deal with contemporary concerns such as deforestation and man’s repeated damage to Nature in Pastoral Symphony and the global problem of water supply and lack of it in Water Music. Other works such as Carlo and Testament draw on extra-musical preoccupations such as madness and despair. Other still such as Game Over and Vexations and Devotions reflect on certain debilitating effects of our present-day “civilisation” such as the banality of modern TV and its game and reality shows or of the use of often abstruse jargon alienating the power of speech.

Pastoral Symphony for ensemble and tape was composed after the composer’s return to Australia. “This piece is about glorious birdsong, the threat that it faces, the loss, and the soulless noise that we’re left with when they’re all gone” (Brett Dean). The work opens with a dawn chorus on tape to which the oboe adds its harmonic overtones to create an intense, atmospheric but by no means idyllic landscape. This uneasy, foreboding feeling prevails for a while. The music then seems to open-up but becomes more agitated and restless till it reaches a climax when the insistent sounds of a logger’s axe are heard. After the trees fall birds scatter and the music launches into an aggressive, mechanical section leading into the barren and desolate coda.

The Siduri Dances for flute and strings - the most recent work here and the only one that does not use sampler or pre-recorded material - draws on a piece for flute: Demons composed for Sharon Bezaly. The composer points that Siduri is a wise female divinity from the Epic of Gilgamesh, who dwells by the sea at the ends of the earth and offers sage advice to those travelling to other realms. After a short, mysterious introduction the music becomes livelier and dance-like while pausing for some calmer episodes. It progressively calms down and slowly makes its way back towards its mysterious close. This is a lovely work that should find a permanent place in any flautist’s repertoire. Sharon Bezaly’s playing and musicality is a real joy from first to last.

Water Music for saxophone quartet and chamber orchestra is a more serious affair. It is in three movements with titles that clearly trace the music’s narration: Bubbling (the sound of water), Coursing (the image of rushing water) and Parched Earth (the absence of water). Dean displays his full compositional array. He does this in a most imaginative way to suggest his various visions while avoiding any all-too-crude pictorial effects. The sonic register of the saxophone quartet - that the composer considers as a “super-instrument” - is remarkably imaginative throughout. The composer also uses more advanced techniques such as multiphonics, key clicks and the like, but never extravagantly. Sampled material is also used in the outer movements but is conspicuously absent from the central Scherzo. The first movement is appropriately capricious whereas the second is an energetic Scherzo in which the propulsive character of the music rarely flags. Room is left for a slow chorale after which the music resumes its course and rushes towards an animated conclusion capped by a brief, dark coda. The final movement paints a bleak and desolate landscape.

Carlo is the earliest and the most complex work in this ear-opening selection. It draws on Gesualdo’s life and work as well as on Dean’s admiration of his music. It is scored for strings, sampler and tape. Meurig Bowen’s excellent notes go into considerable detail about the complex fabric of the music. It would be idle for me to try of sum them up or (worse!) to repeat them, the more so in that I am not particularly well-versed in Gesualdo’s music. Carlo opens with music by Gesualdo heard on tape/CD. This is soon confronted with Dean’s own reaction to the music. This then proceeds wave-like through a series of contrasted episodes until it reaches its horror-stricken climax - Gesualdo stabbing his wife and her lover? There follows a lengthy coda based on Gesualdo’s second Responsory for Maundy Thursday ending with an unresolved crescendo. To be quite frank I admit being somewhat prejudiced about this piece before listening to it. However, repeated hearings have convinced me that this is by far the most impressive work in this generous selection of Dean’s honest and thought-provoking music.

Performances and recording are first rate from start to end, and Bowen’s detailed and well-informed notes considerably add to one’s appreciation of these often gripping works.

-- Hubert Culot, MusicWeb International

Product Description:

  • Release Date: July 01, 2009

  • Catalog Number: BIS-CD-1576

  • UPC: 7318590015766

  • Label: BIS

  • Number of Discs: 1

  • Composer: Brett Dean

  • Conductor: ["Brett Dean, Heinz Karl "Nali" Gruber"]

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Raschèr Saxophone Quartet, Swedish Chamber Orchestra

  • Performer: Sharon Bezaly