I must admit to an ambivalence towards ‘contemporary’ classical music – by which I mean music being composed in the here and now, rather than those unspeakable ‘crossover’ recordings. The classical compositions I’ve heard from the last two or three decades have often embraced a severely reductive atonality, which I find most unappealing. Hence, I approached this disc as something of a chore … but the fact that the music was more accessible and interesting than anticipated, plus a recording that was clearly exceptional, brought me back, and by the third listen I was thoroughly enjoying it!
Ross Edwards is the senior of the four Australian composers featured, and likely the only one whose name could be familiar to overseas audiences. His Piano Trio was commissioned as a competition piece and its open texture provides space for the attractive, upbeat melodies to unfold. Paul Stanhope’s ‘Dolcissimo Uscignolo’ borrows its title, inspiration and various musical quotations from a Monteverdi madrigal, weaving from them a concoction whose sheer unpredictability exerts a magnetic hold on the listener. Matthew Hindson’s Piano Trio is a more familiar-sounding approach to experimental modern music, combining driving rhythms with meditative, melodic interludes. Nicholas Buc’s ‘Trailer Music’ is a fascinatingly original vision – inspired by the promotional film clips shown in cinemas, its rapid changes of direction, mood and tempo mimic the dissociative experience of fast cut video editing, while also providing moments of gorgeous lyricism.
Making their debut recording, the Benaud Trio (cheekily named in tribute to an iconic cricket commentator, familiar throughout those former British colonies which embrace the game) does a remarkable job with this music, making it sound a great deal less difficult than it is. The recording itself must share star billing – the sparkle on the Steinway’s upper registers is exquisite and, with violin and cello well spread to enhance the spatial perspective, this is surely the finest recording of an instrumental trio I’ve heard. Sadly, the obscure nature of this music is unlikely to find a wide audience … but the lucky few will have something to cherish!