Dean: Shadow Music; Etüdenfest; Short Stories; Testament; Beethoven: Adagio molto e mesto from String Quartet in F major, Op 59 No 1 (arr Brett Dean)

Reviewed on Tue 25 Oct, 2016

The three-part title track (2002) begins with a brooding crepuscularity that tumbles into a stygian world of organic decay before resolving in scurrying disorientation.

Menace and the macabre lurk in the unsettling echoes and shifting shadows that abound in this compendium by the doyen of Australian post-modernism, Brett Dean. The three-part title track (2002) begins with a brooding crepuscularity that tumbles into a stygian world of organic decay before resolving in scurrying disorientation. The strings and obbligato piano of Etüdenfest (2000) acquit themselves with all the clashing clamour of Charles Ives, the widely contrasted ‘five interludes’ grouped together as Short Stories (2005) concentrated aphorisms of immense gravity glistening with coagulating glints of dark beauty. It’s left to Dean’s becoming arrangement of the slow movement from the first of Beethoven’s Op 59 String Quartets to leaven the intensity, its rounder, warmer tones adding welcome poetry to the surrounding brutality. Subtly quoting the same movement, Testament (2008) movingly imagines Beethoven writing his letter of defiance against debilitating deafness. Atmospheres throughout are evocatively conjured by the Swedish Chamber Orchestra under the composer’s baton. Intense but involving.
–Michael Quinn