Current is a fitting name for Nexas Quartet’s new release featuring five leading Australian composers.
Elena Kats-Chernin’s repetitive theme opens From Anna Magdalena’s Notebook, over which soars Andrew Smith on alto sax, with Nathan Henshaw nearby on tenor. Each musician exudes a certain clarity in tone but texture is added through growls and the sound of occasional clicky keys. Originally written for string quartet, the saxophone quartet’s warmth in this 2015 (soprano sax) arrangement by Michael Duke enriches this magical work.
Nostalgia by Daniel Rojas (arranged by Jay Byrnes, baritone sax) pays a solemn homage to the composer’s memories of childhood naivety. An adrenaline-fuelled Slipstream by Matthew Orlovich features a bicycle bell, illustrating the sensation of cycling by use of wildly ascending and descending passages and swelling dynamics.
Matthew Hindson’s Overture from Scenes from Romeo and Juliet is utterly startling, with its jabbing tones and high-impact silences. Romeo sounds like a challenge but Nexas rates highly with outstanding consistency in both individual performance and ensemble balance. This continues with Lachlan Skipworth’s Dark Nebulae, in which the musicians are so restrained that we have to open our ears in order to hear the waves of the player’s droning, unnerving overtones.
A little less reverberation would have highlighted the quartet’s capacity for fragility and buoyancy, but this does not distract from a riveting release.