Thursday, 15 April 2021

Music positively explodes from the disc: Australian group Ensemble Offspring's Offspring Bites 3

En Masse: Offspring Bites3 - Alex Pozniak, Holly Harrison, Thomas Meadowcroft; Ensemble Offspring

En Masse: Offspring Bites3
- Alex Pozniak, Holly Harrison, Thomas Meadowcroft; Ensemble Offspring

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 13 April 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
A long established Sydney-based contemporary music ensemble with three terrific recent commissions from Australian composers

We can sometimes get a bit insular in our listening and exploring, but the internet can give us a window into lively performance traditions that we might otherwise be unaware of. Sydney-based new music group Ensemble Offspring, artistic director Claire Edwardes, has premiered over 300 works in the last 25 years and its Offspring Bites series celebrates works commissioned by the group. En Masse: Offspring Bites 3 is their third such disc. Written for Ensemble Offspring's core sextet of percussion, clarinet, flute, violin, cello and keyboard, the album features new work by three mid-career Australian composers, Alex Pozniak's En Masse, Holly Harrison's bend/boogie/break and Thomas Meadowcroft's Medieval Rococo.

First comes Alex Pozniak's En Masse for flute, clarinet, violin, cello percussion and piano, written in 2018. Pozniak studied at the University of Sydney and Sydney Conservatorium. En Masse is the sixth work he has written for Ensemble Offspring, following the trio Spike in 2015, solo works Surge for marimba, Mercurial for cello, Interventions and Crush for solo piano and Tower of Erosion for piano and percussion. En Masse is his response to a commission for a substantial piece for the core sextet of Ensemble Offspring. The title refers to the idea of the ensemble working together in a unified mass and the musical ideas explore notions of mass or heaviness, but it also stems from a reordering of the start of the word ‘ensemble’. The work is in three movements, each around ten minutes, loosely fast, slow, fast though the piece plays continuously.

Ensemble Offspring (Photo - Dale Harrison)
Ensemble Offspring (Photo - Dale Harrison)

From the very start, the first movement makes a strong impression beginning with big gestures, strong harmonies and full of colour, but there are also jazzy rhythms and interesting details. The whole movement has a really vigorous impulse and is quite percussion based, but gradually the textures unwind and the musical material fragments, though energy is finally re-asserted. The second movement is sparer, with fragmentary motifs, but the textures are still quite percussion-based. Throughout, Pozniak draws a remarkable range of colours from his six instruments. The final movement opens as an urgent toccata with strong rhythms contrasting with quieter moments when things seem to unwind. Ultimately, the movement reaches a Big Finish, but does seem to take a rather Tchaikovsky-like long time to get there.

Next comes Holly Harrison's bend/boogie/break from 2018, for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, percussion, keyboard. Harrison comes from Western Sydney, and is currently the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra's composer in residence. The title refers to the character of three recurring ideas in the piece. bend: the use of glissandi and pitch bends, boogie: the underlying funk bass, break: as in, to break apart or a ‘breakdown’ section.

After a slow introduction the piece becomes seriously funky and by manipulating her three ideas Harrison makes the work full of strong rhythms, colour and movement, though there are quieter interludes. All in all, a striking and intriguing ten minutes.

The final work on the disc is Thomas Meadowcroft's Medieval Rococo from 2016 for alto flute, clarinet, percussion, keyboard, backing track. Meadowcroft is an Australian resident in Berlin for many years. The title is a deliberate oxymoron, and Meadowcroft sees the terms ‘medieval’ and ‘rococo’ are not used to reference periods of European art history but used in the populist sense of the words. ‘Medieval’ denotes music crude and backward, ‘rococo’ denotes music garish and arty. The work was commissioned by Ensemble Offspring for premiere at Sizzle 2016 and features alto flute, clarinet, percussion and keyboard (with a harpsichord sound) along with a minimal electronic backing track

This starts gently and seems to be an exploration of colour and texture. A focus on a particular combination of texture, colour and timbre gradually modulates into another. The result is rather slow and seductive, yet also subtly disturbing.

The project involves visuals as well and you can see the Offspring Bites 3 videos on Vimeo. Whilst the rather striking CD cover image is by Dale Harrison.

These three pieces for contemporary sextet are all confident, different and full of life, signs of vigorous contemporary music in Australia. The music positively explodes from the disc, and the performances are all superb, as the players enter with a will the different, and sometimes challenging, sound worlds of the composers. If you are interest in what is happening beyond our own little island, then this is a disc for you to explore.

Alex Pozniak (born 1982) - En Masse (2018) [32:07]
Holly Harrison (born 1988) - bend/boogie/break (2018) [10:07]
Thomas Meadowcroft (born 1972) - Medieval Rococo (2016) [12:51]
Ensemble Offspring - Claire Edwardes (percussion/Artistic Director) Jason Noble (clarinets), Lamorna Nightingale (flutes), Véronique Serret (violin), Blair Harris (cello), Rowena McNeish (cello), Benjamin Kopp (piano), Zubin Kanga (keyboard)
Roland Peelman (conductor, En Masse only)
Recorded at Studio 301; Sydney Conservatorium, Music Workshop; Eugene Goossens, ABC Centre Ultimo

The disc is available direct from the Ensemble Offspring website, and available for download from Bandcamp.



The blog is free, but I'd be delighted if you were to show your appreciation by buying me a coffee.

Elsewhere on this blog
  • Richard Strauss satirising his publisher & exploring exoticism with vertiginously high vocals: Unerhört (Outrageous) from tenor Daniel Behle and pianist Oliver Schnyder  - record review
  • Manchester Song Festival: Kathryn Rudge, Kathrine Broderick, and RNCM Songsters at Stoller Hall - concert review
  • Towards Perfection: the idea of an ideal version of an opera has not always played out in history, with composers being surprisingly willing to rewrite works to suit circumstances - feature
  • Go, not knowing where: I chat to pianist Elan Sicroff about Russian composer Thomas de Hartmann and the Thomas de Hartmann project - interview
  • A journey to Anatolia through the ears of The Turkish Five, pioneers of western classical music in Turkey - record review
  • Charmes: an alternative century of song from Olena Tokar and Igor Gryshyn with music by Alma Mahler-Werfel, Clara Schumann, Pauline Viardot-Garcia and Vitezslava Kapralova - record review 
  • 60th birthday celebration: Faroese composer Sunleif Rasmussen's works for recorder player Michala Petri survyed in this engaging and imaginative disc - record review
  • Music of sundrie sorts, and to content divers humours: Byrd's 1588 Psalmes, Sonets & songs of sadness and pietie in its first complete recording from Alamire - record review
  • Bringing audiences into closer contact with the poetry: tenor Ilker Arcayürek on the art of the song recital and his new disc of Schubert songs - interview
  • Scholarship and enjoyment combine in Il Gusto Barocco's lovely fresh account of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos - record review
  • Proud Songsters: a survey of English song by ten distinguished alumni of King's College, Cambridge on the college's own label  record review
  • A Healing Fire: Greek guitarist Smaro Gregoriadou in music by Bach, Britten, Gubaidulina & Hetu played on instruments by George Kertsopoulos  - record review
  • Home

No comments:

Post a comment

Popular Posts this month