What a hidden treasure is Canberra’s outstanding young composer Sally Greenaway! She is an ANU School of Music graduate and recipient of a scholarship to study composition at the Royal College of Music in London. She is a winner of the APRA JazzGroove Mothership Orchestra National Big Band Composition Competition, has secured the Canberra International Music Festival Young Composer Award and was a finalist in the Seattle Woman’s Jazz Orchestra Composition Contest. She has just been granted a residency at the Melbourne Recital Centre thanks to the Myer Foundation where her commission in 2016 will see a new 30 minute work come to fruition.
Her CD release, Aubade and Nocturne, is amazingly beautiful in every respect and supplies a wonderful chronology of the current works of this gifted writer. The CD package itself is a quality work of art with its embossed hard cover,magnificent photographs by 6 talented artists and 24 glossy pages of informative and interesting background including poetry which provided musical inspiration.
The music contained within is sublime with 16 stylistically varied tracks capturing atmosphere and imagery in a gentle, peaceful and always pleasing manner. Many of Canberra’s finest professional musicians are featured with the musical combinations utilised to realise Sally’s works ranging from solo harp or piano through duets and chamber groups to symphony and wind orchestras. The playing throughout, in all musical combinations, is superb, with excellent balance, faultless intonation, precise technical control and masterful understanding and interpretation of style. For this recording Sally was meticulous in engaging a wide range of players, each carefully selected for their individual ability to “not be slaves or servants to her score but to be creative partners”. She requested all players to take ownership of their parts and, perhaps due to her jazz background, to “improvise within boundaries”
Aurora Musis Amica, played by a 20 piece wind orchestra, sets the scene for much of the album with a reflective aural interpretation of dawn. Balloons float peacefully in the early morning sky and the flutes of Vernon Hill and Teresa Rabe conjure images of little birds flying quietly alongside the balloons. It is very easy to drift away with the gentle sound. The work was commissioned by the combined Canberra Grammar Schools and demonstrates a clever ability to write for available instrumental resources yet be challenging both musically and in an education sense.
A haunting oboe from London’s Royal College of Music Symphony Orchestra introduces The Blue Mountains with a lovely melody interpreting more early morning imagery before lush full orchestral writing creates a beautiful picture of quiet mountains reaching into a cloudy sky.
Three lyrical, rather than spoken, pieces are Poems where recitation is delivered by the cello of Gillian Pereira who maintains the serene atmosphere during the short movements with Sally herself providing sympathetic piano accompaniment. There is an urgent rising of musical emotion during the second poem before calmness returns, whilst the third piece has a simplistic beauty reminiscent of The Swan. It is interesting to note that study, discussion and analysis of Poems is currently part of the curriculum for 3rd year Australian Music Unit students at Monash University. Sally ultimately aims to enhance the available study material by completing a set of up to 100 musical poems.
Sally’s ability to paint a vivid musical picture is particularly evident as a 17 piece Canberra chamber orchestra explores sounds in a forest in Elk Branches. Shimmering strings seem to alert an elk as undergrowth starts to rustle then fear and tension pervade as an intruder seemingly approaches via heaving brass and percussion.Tension fades and tranquillity soon returns.
Sally wrote lyrics and music for Stay Awhile,a work for chamber choir. It features a gorgeous flowing melodic line with tight harmonic accompaniment and is sung particularly well by the 8 piece Luminescence Chamber Choir,another fine group of talented Canberra musicians. Her inspiration came from a member of Canberra’s Rhythm Syndicate who was devastated when illness overtook her parents.Sally decided to compose, as a healing gift,an Australian – like You Raise Me Up. It was ultimately premiered by the Woden Valley Youth Choir and is now regularly by performed by many community choirs at eisteddfod competition
Three solo works, Dawn of Evening, Etude in F Minor and Liena, follow. All are quite contrasting in style but maintain the established feeling of peaceful serenity. An interesting story surrounds Dawn of Evening, the first piece written by Sally after the purchase of a grand piano. Her bedroom in her parent’s home was too small to house both bed and piano but Sally was desperate to advance her performance standard to the next level so out went the bed and Sally slept for a year on a mattress under her beloved piano. The Etude was written for the Chopin International Piano Competition at the ANU School of Music. The competition did not proceed due to the sad restructure at the School at that time but outstanding pianist Anthony Smith has ensured preservation of the work.Liena was written for, and is performed by, Liena Lacey. It is a study in jazz style, a rare commodity in repertoire for the harp!
The chamber choir returns for Skylark, not the well known jazz standard, but a delightful setting to lyrics from the mid 19th Century.Sally’s recent film scoring background (she has composed over 20 soundtracks) is evident in an excerpt from Fantasia, a piece for clarinet quartet and piano which was written in 2011 specifically for four outstandingly gifted clarinet students at Canberra Boys Grammar School. It cheekily hints at Pirates of the Caribbean, Dr Who and Mozart’s famed Clarinet Concert. Of interest, all of those original players have progressed into professional music careers. The Feud Suite was indeed originally commissioned for a film and was written while Sally was studying in London. It was adapted to a concert version for this CD and features Louise Page as both soprano soloist and narrator along with a string quartet and piano. Both works are performed wonderfully well with adventure into exciting driving rhythms temporarily replacing serenity.
The album ends with three jazz tracks which demonstrate that musical imagery is certainly as possible in jazz style as it is in the classical genre.Flywheel is delicate, yet most inventive, for the instruments of a jazz piano trio whilst the Latin influenced At the Start of the Day is rhythmically fascinating as it builds through an extended piano solo. Sally plays a subtle melodic line in Encore de Lirico, originally one of her guitar works, to bring the album to a most satisfying close.
This CD is a marvellous collection of very good music written by a talented Canberra composer and played with sensitivity and surety by a wonderful array of primarily Canberra musicians. It deserves to be a prized item for fine music collectors and is highly recommended.