Trail-blazing Australian recorder player Alicia Crossley launched her new album with Sydney’s Acacia Quartet, Muse, with a varied concert featuring no fewer than five world premieres in the Sydney Opera House’s Utzon Room. A passionate advocate for her instrument, Crossley’s remit spans Historically Informed Performance to new and experimental music, and this concert saw her shepherd a suite of new Australian works for recorder into the world.
Muse. Image © Blule
Lyle Chan’s Debussy-inspired Three Bilitis Movements opened the concert, Crossley’s tenor recorder colouring the edge of the string sound in the folky energy of The Dancers of Mytilene, a wide-ranging movement of quirky humour, crisp percussive attacks and Bluesy strings. The ensemble luxuriated in the expressive The Rains of Spring and Morning, Crossley tracing arcing melodies above the strings in the piece’s most overtly Debussyesque movement, before the finale – a brief but vibrant movement titled To invoke Pan, god of the summer wind – brought the piece home with bouncing bows and sliding, flutter-tongued recorder.
Anne Boyd’s haunting Yuya was the only work on the program that wasn’t a world premiere, having been first performed in Manchester in 2004. Here Crossley’s tenor recorder masterfully channelled the Japanese shakuhachi in sliding pitches and breath-driven shapes, the strings koto-like in their astringent pizzicati. The music was inspired, Boyd told us, by the story of a Japanese concubine Yuya who wins freedom to visit her sick mother through a beautiful dance beneath the falling cherry blossoms. While Crossley conjured Yuya, Anna Martin-Scrase’s cello became the imperious prince, forbidding but ultimately swayed by Yuya’s dance in dramatic, dark-hued lines before Crossley’s final screaming gesture.
The inspiration for Chris Williams’ Pass to us the cups from which sorrow is forgotten came from a 12th-century manuscript by Ibn Baqi, Crossley’s organ-like bass recorder joining the accumulating dissonance of strings in a work that mingled medieval sonorities with a contemporary palette, the melody treated in variations from lively dance to Crossley’s winding recorder over cello drone.
In a change of mood, Crossley switched to alto recorder for Stephen Yates’ Bat-Music, based on a song the composer wrote in the late 80s about a “self-deprecating” bat. Crossley sung above undulating strings in music of charming innocence, dance-like celebration and an off-kilter recorder cadenza.
Continuing this lighter vein, Jessica Wells’s Copenhagen Christmas evoked Danish elves in its capricious first movement Nisse, Crossley on the spritely soprano recorder against buzzing strings before flickering sustained notes mimicked the ritual lighting of candles in Hygge (Crossley now on tenor), bringing a cosy warmth to the Utzon Room.
Sally Whitwell’s Three by Three – inspired by Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – brought the concert to a close with Crossley moving up through her recorders from bass to sopranino in a work of delightful, trilling fantasy mirroring Alice’s sensation of shrinking “like a telescope”.
Muse was a beguiling concert full of whimsy and musical story-telling, neatly programmed to draw the audience through the disparate styles of the composers showcased. Fine performances by Crossley and the Acacia Quartet were a pleasure, but perhaps even more significant is the contribution to the recorder repertoire fostered here by Crossley.
Alicia Crossley’s new album with the Acacia Quartet, Muse, is out now