LIFE ON PAPER
Verbrugghen Hall, Sydney Conservatorium of Music
Sydney Morning Herald, September 21, 2010
Reviewed by Peter McCallum
Versatile Schultz finds it pays to go by the book
ANDREW SCHULTZ'S new work, I am writing in this book, adapts texts from The Pillow Book by 10th-century Japanese writer Sei Shonagon. In a pre-performance talk, Schultz said he started working on the texts in the 1990s but when Peter Greenaway's eponymous film was released he put them to one side to avoid confusion between his work and that striking reinterpretation.
Schultz has selected five texts, moving from golden lyricism and love to a stormy list of Sei Shonagon's dislikes before a quiet close.
The first song, A gift of paper, is a quietly radiant duet for soprano and mezzo-soprano in which Sei Shonagon states she will use the gift of some paper to write things she sees, hears and knows.
Schultz's setting shares some affinities of classic female vocal duets in exploring the golden sound of female voices a third apart. It is a world away from the ''flower duet'' of Delibes's Lakme but shares some affinity with it as an orientalist representation of the female.
The third song, Language of women, erupts into something of a tantrum.
While the conception of the final two quiet numbers was imaginative, the instrumental accompaniment could tolerate more detailed working.
The concert began with a performance by Jenny Duck-Chong and instrumentalists of Books I and II of George Crumb's Madrigals, which take lines of intense expressive power by Federico Garcia Lorca.
These works are superb examples of Crumb's capacity to isolate distinctive sounds to colour and capture a moment, and are masterpieces of modernist miniature expressiveness.
Joseph Schwantner's Sparrows used haiku by Kobayashi Issa in a series of opulent pictorial settings for soprano (Alison Morgan) and instrumental ensemble, conducted by David Stanhope. Schwantner's music undulates and flows, with the soprano often beginning each verse on high pitch before beginning a slowly soaring ascent.
The instrumental backing highlights, enhances and airbrushes this with textures that, to my ear, were sometimes a little false and cosmetic.
This was another beautifully and thoughtfully constructed Halcyon program.