Andrew Ford’s eclectic tastes and playful persona, well known from his bitingly witty and perceptive critical essays and radio shows are well represented here in this collection of finely crafted compositions from 2001-2007. The main work, Learning to Howl for soprano, soprano saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet, harp and percussion, sets verses of Sappho and other mostly women poets across the centuries in an approachable lyrical style – the vocal writing refreshingly natural and idiomatic. The work has an austere, delicate beauty with its sparse accompaniment of harp and percussion and Ford’s keen ear for sonority and colour is much in evidence. Jane Sheldon’s pure tone and accurate intonation interweaves well with the wind obbligatos played by Margery Smith, but the songs would benefit from more dramatic projection and variety of tone on the vocalist’s part.
The other lengthy work here Elegy in a Country Graveyard overlays recorded interviews of elderly residents with choir and ensemble to create an evocatively atmospheric depiction of a spectacularly positioned graveyard at Robertson in NSW’s Southern Highlands – a nostalgic tribute if quaintly ‘ABC Radio’ in character with its cawing crows.
Three short works complete the disc of which the standout is Snatches of Old Lauds for a sonorous ensemble of bass clarinet with cello and bass drone. Cleanly recorded, with Ford’s self-effacing program notes, this is a welcome addition to the discography of one of Australian music’s more colourful characters.