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Australia

Drawn towards the light

Luminous
Australian Chamber Orchestra
City Recital Hall, August 17
★★★½

The overriding context of Luminous , a collaborative project between the Australian Chamber Orchestra and photographer Bill Henson is darkness, from which light emerges with frail refraction, like a brief candle.

Henson’s night-time studies projected on a large screen behind the orchestra explore reflected glow from street-lights, lighted windows and other light sources on buildings, trees, urbanscapes, landscapes and on the faces and bodies of adolescents apparently engaged in some unexplained nocturnal revelry about which their parents may not have known.

The opening and closing visual sequences take one down a path between trees with branches billowing, beckoning and strange, the return at the end of the program prompting inclusion of Janacek's On an Overgrown Path: Good night!

Against the images, specially commissioned sound sculptures by Paul Healy and music by Schnittke, Britten, Purcell, Vasks, Yared and the rock band R.E.M. form a continuous playlist where pieces merge like a series of pictures without frame.

Henson’s images tend to dominate, which is unproblematic for Healy’s sound sculptures, and the songs of Britten, Yared, R.E.M and Purcell sung in quiet vulnerable tones by vocalist Lior. Schnittke’s Trio Sonata (an arrangement by Yuri Bashmet of his String Trio), however, seemed ill served, its two movements reversed from the composer’s order and separated by a song from the film The Talented Mr Ripley.

This meant the reminiscence of the themes of the first movement at the end of the second lost any meaning the composer may have intended.

Henson’s treatment of light evokes stillness, to the extent that when the ACO reached the only really quick music of the program, the faster sections of Peteris Vasks’ Concerto for Violin and Strings “Distant Light”, the images withdrew altogether.

This is a rich work that builds from a static, mysterious opening to a point of emotional intensity that bursts into flashes of energy brilliance and virtuosity.

Richard Tognetti’s performance of the solo part captured wide tonal range and the ACO's intensity created exciting involvement.

Whether or not you are comfortable with Henson’s aestheticising of the faces and bodies of teenagers (and events of a decade ago suggest not all are), their reappearance in the slow sections of this piece tended to distort the way its structure is perceived.

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