Recorder soloist Alicia Crossley joined Acacia Quartet for the ‘Muse’  concert and recording project of Australian works. Featured image: watercolour artwork by Clémentine Campardou (Blule) inspired by the Muse project.

This concert and CD launch of ‘Muse’ was an inspiring contribution to the Australian live and recorded music scene for 2018 and for many years to come. The blend of recorder virtuoso Alicia Crossley with the expressive and stylistically flexible powerhouse of Acacia Quartet yielded exciting results.

The works both on CD and heard live in concert were all by Australian composers. These works were commissioned, adapted or freshly recorded to make this project a significant musical event. The contribution of printed programme, CD cover design and other artworks from visual artist Clémentine Campardou’s watercolour workshop to the event merchandise elevated this concert to classy festival status.

What was truly classy and more touching about this afternoon however was the exposure and blend of recorders with the colourful and precise instrument we have come to know as Acacia Quartet. The string instruments demonstrated seamless blend to evoke vivid atmospheres and to speak as one. Also a thrill at this concert was the keen balance with the quartet and promotion of the recorder family by Alicia Crossley, correctly described in her programme bio as “a recorder rockstar” (Fish Fine Music)

The many timbres and characters of the recorder relatives brought life to the detailed extramusical agendas of the concert’s short single or multiple-movement works. The combination of recorder and string quartet is a rare one at Australian chamber music festivals or concerts. At this event though we were quickly left craving more of this endearing ensemble’s joyous subtlety.

Another attraction at this performance of premieres and arrangements was the introduction of works by the passionate living composers able to be present. Lyle Chan piqued our interest with reference to his recent work extending Debussy’s fascination with Greek civilisation and mythology, the Three Bilitis Movements for tenor recorder and string quartet.

In this work, Acacia Quartet and Alicia Crossley boldly rendered progressive instrumental squeals, crunches of spirit and cries of joy as thoroughly as moments of stillness or gorgeous lyricism. And it was obvious from the outset that we were in for a constantly charismatic, empathetic ensemble work in this collaboration. The calibre of listening across the quartet-plus-one was exemplary, presenting the creatives’ recent works in exquisite detail.

Acacia Quartet members: Lisa Stewart, Anna Martin-Scrase, Myee Clohessy and Stefan Duwe

In a similar vein composers Anne Boyd AM and Jessica Wells prefaced their programmatic works Yuya and Copenhagen Christmas respectively with enthusiasm and lucidity. We were well primed for the stories and scenes to be depicted before us.

The tension between male (cello) and female (recorder) personalities from Japanese society in Yuya or the humour and warmth of a European Christmas were equally well explained. This string quartet and recorder combo did not fail in accurately painting the dramatic tapestry of tone colours.

Great variety of style and mood fleshed out the concert’s centre with firstly a meditative Pass to us the cups with which sorrow is forgotten from the deep well of sentiment at composer Chris Williams’ disposal. This work showcased Crossley’s first descent into the glorious world of the live bass recorder.

Following on from this contrast was the introduction of the brighter alto recorder in Stephen Yates’ extension of an earlier vocal composition. Bat-Music once more celebrated the musicians’ skill in conquering intricacy and dense textural moments. Once more in this concert charming and sensitive gestures surpassed any demands of the score’s shifting wind and string interactions.

Cover design by Clémentine Campardou (Blule) for the Muse CD on Move Records MCD 587

A definite highlight was the concept of using all sizes of recorder in Sally Whitwell’s ‘Alice in Wonderland inspired Three by Three. With Lewis Carroll-esque delight the joyous music shifted through the recorder arsenal from lowest to highest register.  As in the earlier part of the concert there was continued beauty in articulation and varied group utterance throughout.

It was hard to resist taking home the ‘Muse’ CD on the Move label (MCD 587). It is a wonderful momento of this worthwhile Australian project. We all know someone who needs to hear the recorder and string quartet in this way, rejoicing in the muse which enabled the concert’s six works from local composers to step into a very bright light.