“Rhythm and lyricism held in perfect balance in a young Australian composer’s rewarding programme of chamber and vocal works”
Sadie Harrison is in her mid-thirties; this, her first CD, concentrates on works composed between 1995 and 1999. Her accompanying notes reveal no hang-ups about musical influences and associations, and the mention of Bartok, Stravinsky and Birtwistle suggests a particular interest in strong rhythmic profiles and forceful, even abrasive textures. These are indeed to be heard, but the music also makes much of more lyrical, expansive writing, echoing at a distance the gentle – sometimes gently sinister – atmosphere of Debussy or Ravel.
The most substantial work, the single-movement, 20-minute Taking Flight for string quartet, demonstrates the full range of possibilities in Harrison’s distinctive synthesis of sources. Here, the sheer diversity of constituent elements, ranging from boldly sculpted, Birtwistle-like patterning to ‘a celebration of C major’, leaves a question mark, not least about the viability of such smooth continuity between expansive reflectiveness and abrasive activity. I had some doubts, too, about the vocal writing in Aster, probably because Lesley-Jane Rogers, in this unsparingly immediate recording, seems more than a little effortful in places. But the three other works are exceptionally rewarding.
Traceries is a short yet spacious blend of song-like and dance-like writing, hauntingly allusive: while Impresa amorosa has a beguiling simplicity and directness of utterance, and benefits from a tremendously characterful performance by Aaron Shorr. Arcosolia is a lament finding consolation in proliferating lines which reinforce the relevance of Harrison’s impressionist heritage. Here again the playing is shapely and eloquent, the recording well-defined to a fault. This is a debut which leaves you eager to hear more from such a versatile and accomplished composer.