Smoke Encrypted Whispers

Geoff Adams
Otago Daily Times (NZ)

Southern Cross Soloists is a leading Australian chamber group comprising Paul Dean (artistic director, clarinet), Tania Frazer (oboe), David Mitchell (bassoon), Peter Luff (horn), Kevin Power (piano) and Margaret Schindler (soprano).

They perform magnificently, in various combinations, on this outstanding, innovative and inspiring recording. Wagan Watson's Smoke encrypted whispers are 23 brief poems that won best book and poetry prizes in 2005 for Australia's leading indigenous poet.

All the poems are beautifully recited on this disc by Ron Haddick, to show haunting humanity, dark colours and compelling nuances. They are mostly vivid sketches of life through Aboriginal activist eyes in memories of suburban Brisbane, but in one the poet ''crossed the Ditch'' and visited a Wellington marae.

To pay tribute, enhance, interpret or just react to the poems, 23 different Australian composers, each with Brisbane connections, were commissioned to write 100-second pieces, five of them with vocal parts - each being given a specific poem.

The results are original, but touched with echoes of Prokofiev, Stravinsky and other modern greats. The 23 musical miniatures are matched to follow their own poem.

They provide variety and scintillating colours in music of uniformly high standard; they reflect the Dreamtime and feeling begun in the poems. They enhance magical ''whispers'' within the reverberations of Wagan Watson's words.

Melba's 46-track recording is superb; the deluxe booklet provides all necessary information. Disc of the year.

Highlight: Imaginative music enhances great poetry. Brilliant.