There cannot be many finer examples of writing for the countertenor voice than this. Edwards, a leading Australian composer, is acutely aware of the special qualities of incisiveness and enviable evenness of timbre typical of this voice. The four songs are fluent, clearly conceived and well contrasted, and the style throughout is most elegant. The piano writing is invitingly idiomatic. The clear textures should allow the singer to pick out pitch cues. The whole-tone scales dominates both melody and harmony. The time signature fluctuates constantly and the rhythms are sometimes complex. The whole cycle is extremely practicable, however, and the composer’s manuscript is a model of clarity. The vocal range is appropriately economical: there is much concentration on the most penetrating areas of the countertenor voice (the octave from middle C upwards). There are not many long notes, and those that do occur are so well placed that they avoid the need to sustain a note too long in the voice without vibrato. Dynamics are subtly moulded to the specific sound quality and musical gestures of the authentic style of Baroque music, which forms the corner-stone of the countertenor’s repertory. The aptness of the setting is evident from the outset and finesse and clarity of judgment are sustained throughout the cycle in music of rare delicacy. All countertenors should welcome this addition to their rather limited repertory. It should also prove a satisfying vehicle for other voices, although it is important for them to adapt their tone qualities and dynamics accordingly. An alto or bass, for instance, will naturally command a fuller tone in the lower reaches, but might on the other hand lack the trumpet-like clarity for the middle or upper notes that is a countertenor’s special attribute. The cycle requires skill and unusual sensitivity to timbre. It is important to avoid a rich tone which might blur the finely wrought lines.
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