Album review: Angel at Ahipara

By William Dart

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Angel at Ahipara, Christopher Blake
Angel at Ahipara, Christopher Blake

Ten years ago, discussing the bringing together of contemporary composers and an audience, Christopher Blake told me that the solution was one of balance, "so that the music has a relevance to a reasonably large group of people".

This philosophy has served Blake well in a substantial catalogue of orchestral works, including a symphony and concertos for piano and violin.

Blake's musical language is relatively conservative, with

a distinct Lilburn lineage; behind the notes, references range from poet Charles Brasch and painter Philip Clairmont to Maori creation legends and our inevitable, inescapable landscape.

Angel at Ahipara, featuring the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra strings under Kenneth Young, offers four orchestral works that Blake calls his Northland Panels, after McCahon. Individually, however, the pieces have been inspired by the elegiac Northland photographs of Robin Morrison.

Blake constructs a vigorous narrative within each, easy to follow on this listener-friendly disc by lining up CD tracks and programme notes.

After the expressive Angel at Ahipara, catching rural isolation and spiritual sustenance in subtly shifting textures, the second piece, Night Journey to Pawarenga, is more dramatic.

There are echoes of Lilburn in its opening bustle, as Blake unfurls a scenario in which the Archangel Gabriel and the Prophet Muhammad experience the almost ecstatic revelations of God, with crescendos to make the soul quiver.

Christ at Whangape starts with prayers, a mood that returns later when a solitary violin ascends over a trembling orchestral veil.

The closing Anthem on the Kaipara calls for more dissonance as an image of a Port Albert cemetery gate has Blake contemplating war and its sorrows. Kenneth Young gets just the right punch and pungency out of the players to launch the piece, as well as creating an idyllic pastoral calm, when birdsong takes us back to nature.

Angel at Ahipara is a handsome package with inspirational performances in a spellbinding setting, thanks to producer Wayne Laird.

Included in the booklet are all four Morrison images, as well as generous credits to Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra and Andrew Sewell for their part in commissioning the works.

- NZ Herald

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