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The Laughter of Mermaids

Ekstasis / Andrew Schultz (1960- )
The virgin and the nightingale / Gillian Whitehead
The laughter of mermaids / Andrew Ford (1957- )
As water bears salt / Michael Whiticker (1954- )
Carmina Pu! / Stephen Cronin (1960- )

The Song Company with Geoffrey Collins, flute;
Roland Peelman, artistic director.

Vox Australis: VAST016-2
[62 mins, p.1994]

This is a demonstration disc for The Song Company, the leading experimental contemporary music vocal group of Australia, which exhibits high virtuosity in several of the selected works by middle generation composers, and a great sense of humour.

It was sent for review accompanying one with another of Gillian Whitehead's theatrical pieces, the monodrama Hotspur. Both that and The virgin and the nightingale are collaborations with poet Fleur Adcock; this one translated from medieval Latin texts, witty and ironic takes on familiar images. The thrush's song soothes toothache, but in The Anti-Nightingale Song the ever insistent nightingale "never ceases blaring out her melody", whereas the Swan, one time 'white as snow' laments his predicament after the oven has made him "black as tinder and burnt to a cinder!". Whitehead's musical settings are pointed and expressive, and these songs stick in the mind and memory.

The idioms explored by the other composers too are as various as you could wish, culminating in a deliberately impenetrable title song The laughter of mermaids sung and spoken from eleven simultaneous texts...The wordless final work is given in the authentic tones of A A Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh, scholarly researched by the composer Stephen Cronin... An exhilarating compilation.

Peter Grahame Woolf