Releasing the Angel

July 2011 • Phil Brownlee, The Critic's Chair, Radio New Zealand

Atoll ACD 141 • Releasing the Angel; Peregrinations; Other echoes; These arms to hold you; Len Dances. David Chickering (cello), Tzenka Dianova (pno), Lyrica Choir of Kelburn School/Nicola Edgecombe, New Zealand SO/Kenneth Young

“Dianova’s performance is riveting”

The image of ‘releasing the angel’ describes the sculptor’s process of producing a likeness from the raw material of a block of stone. Eve de Castro-Robinson reflects this quite literally: the orchestra is the ‘stone’, and the solo cello is the ‘angel’ contained within it. There’s a wonderful clarity of texture, often a chamber-music-like intimacy, and de Castro-Robinson’s ear for striking combinations of sounds is unfailing. In Peregrinations, there’s something of a risk in extending a moment-to-moment form over a span of eighteen minutes, but de Castro-Robinson negotiates this skilfully, with a strong sense of localised momentum, and characteristically colourful orchestration. Compared to Releasing the Angel, there’s a more equal relationship between soloist and orchestra, and a more ‘orchestral’ palette of sound. The ensemble starts to slip in some of the denser passages, but Dianova’s performance is riveting. These arms to hold you was a commission for the 100th anniversary of Plunket. There’s a good balance between music which is technically accessible to the young choir, backed up by direct quotations of children’s songs, with the sophisticated framework of the overall orchestral setting. Above all, the celebratory nature of the commission is very much in the foreground. I particularly like the way that the musical quotations are matched by a section of text made up notes in children’s Plunket books. In Other Echoes, de Castro-Robinson brings environmental sounds into the concert hall, with transcriptions of bird calls. Although since the birds in question are the kōkako and the extinct huia, it’s very much an imagined environment. The last piece, Len Dances, is a short homage to Len Lye, an artist with whom de Castro-Robinson has an ongoing fascination, and it incorporates recordings of two of Lye’s kinetic sculptures. If you’re new to de Castro-Robinson’s work, this collection would be a good place to start, and if you’re already an enthusiast, it’s good to have these works gathered together.