Australian Voices: Stuart Greenbaum

Australian Voices Series
Works by Stuart Greenbaum
Melbourne Recital Centre
Curated by Jessica Fotinos
Thursday 8 May

Stuart Greenbaum’s transparent textures and unabashedly diatonic harmonies leave space for the audience to consider the poetry and art with which his works are often coupled. The timbral and rhythmic subtlety of his work lends itself to the harp, which featured in all three of the works in this concert curated by ANAM harpist Jessica Fotinos.

Nine Candles for Dark Nights for solo harp, performed with great sensitivity by Fotinos, features a meditative, wandering ostinato inflected with harmonics. Fotinos integrated the melody’s cross-rhythms into the gentle flow of the piece with absolute ease like the “bending arcs of flame” of the nine memorial candles flickering in Greenbaum’s poem.

Ross Baglin’s poems set in Four Finalities for female voice, cor anglais and harp take their cues from the refined imagism of T. S. Eliot. The catalogues of luggage, clothes, furniture, snow and flowers—including snow filling flowers!—; the ruminations on “the time / It takes a finger to decide” and the peal of bucolic church bells are put to good use by Greenbaum. The first song of the cycle, with soprano Lotte Betts-Dean throwing herself into its swelling, keening melody, could be one of the more soulful Eurovision winners. The sparing interjections of the cor anglais (David Reichelt) fit the charm of these pensive poems wonderfully and constitute some of the most captivating moments in the cycle.

The eight miniatures of Greenbaum’s Mondrian Interiors are filled with skyward gestures of weightless optimism. Startling tutti chords strike out at the audience like the Mondrian’s Red Tree while a lighter texture paints the blue sky behind. The cubist Tree (c.1913) was evoked with a minimalist canon. Echoing the bold harmonic palette of Composition with Red, Yellow and Blue, the fifth movement has the bravado and syncopation of the introduction to a 1990s morning show. The fourth movement has the conciliatory tone of the end of a children’s movie from the same decade with its swooning, edgeless chords resembling the pastels of Composition in Oval with Colour Planes.

While communicating directly and succinctly (with the help of a spirited execution by the performers), Greenbaum’s painting of his points of inspiration can come across as overly simplistic. I wonder how Greenbaum’s engagement with his subjects extends both him and his listeners beyond their existing musical comfort zones and into the unknown.

 

Partial Durations is a Matthew Lorenzon/RealTime joint project.

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