LABELS: Sono Luminus
WORKS: String Quartets Nos 12, 14, 16 & 18
PERFORMER: Del Sol String Quartet; Stephen Kent (didgeridoo)
CATALOGUE NO: DSL-92181
Peter Sculthorpe, who died in August 2014, was the creator of the Australian landscape in music. In his later years, he brought a part of it directly into his works in the shape of the didgeridoo, the Aboriginal instrument formed of a eucalyptus branch hollowed out by termites. It features in several major works, and is an option in four of his 18 string quartets. The didgeridoo sustains the drone bass notes latent in many passages, and decorates the drone with percussive attacks or imitations of animal and bird sounds.
The quartets all reflect Sculthorpe’s environmental and humanitarian concerns. No. 12 is an appeal to seek out the real Australia, symbolised by a melody in indigenous style; No. 14 was inspired by landscapes in the composer’s native Tasmania, including the site of a legendary act of genocide; No. 16 reflects the emotions expressed in letters of asylum seekers in Australia; No. 18 sounds the alarm about climate change, before ending with a hopeful hymn tune. The music, essentially melodic with straightforward forms and procedures, has a simplicity similar to that of John Tavener’s music, but also a refreshing earthiness. The performances by the San Francisco-based Del Sol Quartet and the British-born Stephen Kent are exemplary; the stereo recording (there’s also a surround-sound Blu-ray option) creates a well-integrated sound-picture.