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Aurora Australis and Indian Ragas and Medieval Song album reviews

AURORA AUSTRALIS, Various (Atoll 2CD). A quick call to Statistics NZ indicates why Aurora Australis, featuring performances from the 2007 Asia Pacific Festival in Wellington, is this country’s most significant world music release. Our rapidly growing Asian population – from 18 countries, with China (139,728) and India (97,443) leading the way – approaches 9%. Music is the last art to develop a national identity. Ours now stares us in the face as being Asia-Pacific Rim with added elements of Maori folklore. This is already happening with the assured Gao Ping and certain works by Jack Body, Gareth Farr, Lizzie Dobson, Ross Harris and Dylan Lardelli, plus Gillian Whitehead (Maori). Atoll offers 27 items from this festival – a regular event originating from Hong Kong in 1973. It celebrates nine days of music and cultural interchange curated by Body and hosted by our Composers Association (Canz).

Folkloric flagship is the Chinese guqin solo Yü Ko (Song of the Fisherman) c1280AD. This quiet zither-type seven-string plucked instrument with its 91 harmonics is rich in subtle sonorities. It’s called “the father of Chinese music”. Its unbroken 2500- year tradition harkens back to Confucius. Other selections include a Maori Ipurangi improvisation. Remarkably virtuosic solo throat singing from Japan’s Koichi Makigami beggars belief. Most items are composed art music flavoured by world music on the level of Stravinsky’s Firebird and Petrushka. Shirish Korde’s North Indian item played by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra typifies that. Many ambitiously mirror Western modernism. Taiwanese Lin Mei-Fang’s Disintegration for piano reveals her intimate knowledge of George Crumb’s amplified piano innovations, especially his Makrokosmos 1 and 2 (1973). Ditto Pierre Boulez’s 1984 Répons influence of amplified electronics hugging the voice part of Indonesian Tony Prabowo’s Hampa. No intellectual abstruseness here. If you love exotic sonorities, this consummate production may thrill you.

INDIAN RAGAS AND MEDIEVAL SONG, Dominique Vellard (tenor), Ken Zuckerman (sarod, dhotar and medieval lute), Anindo Chatterjee (tabla and dhupki), Keyvan Chemirani (zarb and gattam) (Glossa/Southbound). The subtitle, Modal Melodies East to West, says it all. Europe’s roots were Eastern then. Modes are what they had in common. If you don’t know their sound – Dorian, Lydian, Phrygian – the erudite booklet helps. These chosen modes obviously flavour all melodies. The booklet describes Eastern relation between tala (rhythm, usually percussive) and raga (melody), but doesn’t trace this link through to isorhythmic structure in Western sacred music. Twelve tracks traverse India, Persia (spectacular drum talas), France, Spain, Gregorian chant and some improvisations “in the style” to reflect medieval performance practice. Guillaume de Machaut’s one virelai has solo voice in counterpoint against one melodic instrument. All others are monophonic. The Glossa label, new here, presents fastidious production and vibrant performances on period instruments enhanced by stunningly clear recorded sound.