Smoke Encrypted Whispers

Vincent Plush
Weekend Australian
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How best to understand or describe Queensland: a state of mind or geography? You could read the novels of Xavier Herbert, visit the paintings of Ian Fairweather or listen to the music on this remarkable CD. In 2008, Paul Dean, the guiding genius behind so much music-making in Brisbane, invited 23 Queensland composers to create short pieces to interleave readings of the poetry of Samuel Wagan Watson. None were to be longer than 100 seconds. The result is a sonic tapestry of contemporary Brisbane, as torpid as a summer day, as threatening as a thundershower. The range of composers is panoramic in age (from late teens to octogenarians) and in style: it’s impossible to tell who wrote what. Dean’s seven-member group the Southern Cross Soloists plays with its customary precision and panache. Soprano Margaret Schindler negotiates some tricky territory in several of the settings. Rarely do we hear the entire ensemble together, which makes for variety and vigour in texture. Altogether, the performances are luminous, too elegant almost for the gritty underbelly that Watson’s texts celebrate. Melba’s customary production values are lavished on this extraordinary and perhaps unique enterprise, but Ron Haddrick’s burnished narration suggests another time and place. A pity we don’t get to hear the richly lived, languorous voice of the poet himself. It is his word-paintings of present day Brisbane that resonate at the core of this collaboration. While there are echoes of David Malouf’s Jonno, Brisbane has moved beyond 1975. Even so, the Brisbane of yesteryear, its imagery, sounds and characters linger lovingly in the memory.