Within seconds you recognise the voice, the unmistakable hypnotic undulations of one of our most frequently performed composers. Ross Edwards’ mature style began with a concerto, the ebullient Piano Concerto of 1982, and like his teachers Richard Meale, Peter Maxwell Davies and Peter Sculthorpe he has since embraced the key structures of Western classical music with enthusiasm.
The recent Edwards oeuvre is dense, with multiple symphonies, string quartets and many concertos. This disc features three works in the latter genre for clarinet, oboe and shakuhachi, each written for and performed by principals from major orchestras (Diana Doherty and David Thomas) and notable soloists (Riley Lee). Each concerto is extremely well written, masterfully balancing slippery virtuosic solos with understated chamber-like orchestral writing. They are languid yet optimistic in character, their gentle edges unfolding effortlessly. Which is where I start to feel frustrated: there’s so little bite. Edwards has perfected his approach to such an extent he risks becoming a well-oiled machine, unlike the harsher, more intangible composer of the 1970s for whom nature remained a mystery and metaphysical questions couldn’t
yet be answered.
It’s not about pace: even the glacial First Symphony of 1991, reflecting anxiously on war and mortality, stepped through doors left tantalisingly open. That said, this disc really is first-rate: both the recording and performances are beautiful and the compositions hard to fault. I just yearn for a little more vulnerability and to feel more surprise from this otherwise highly distinctive composer.