At first glance, the combination of piano and classical guitar is an unusual one. There are precedents, to be sure, going back to the 19th century (Carulli et al.); but only with the advent of amplification and studio production could the imbalance between these two seemingly incompatible instruments truly be overcome. As will quickly become apparent with the works on this unique release, from guitarist Matt Withers and pianist Sally Whitwell.

Mixing company with composers Whitwell, Nat Bartsch and Sally Greenaway are the first, second and third prize winners of the 2020 Australian Music Composition Competition, James Madsen, Meredith Connie and Julia Vlahogiannis. Many of the works take as their inspiration Sue Needham’s artwork, reproduced on the album cover, Outback.

Where Madsen’s Celestial River Reflections plays with a piano-earth/guitar-sky dichotomy and features improvised section, Bartsch’s Where We Were is a melancholy meditation on the COVID-19 pandemic and associated lockdowns.

Whitwell’s three-movement work Starwalker opens onto sublime starry vistas of the night sky; by contrast, Vlahogiannis’ Soaring is just that, a sometimes-tranquil, sometimes-dramatic bird’s-eye view of the outback landscape below. Connie’s three-movement Seen/Unseen is a hymn to the desert’s fragility and ever-shifting moods, while Withers and Whitwell have arranged Greenaway’s Poem III, originally for cello and piano, such that its French melodie inspirations are even more evident in the subtlety of the writing.

Withers and Whitwell clearly have a strong rapport, their immaculate and insightful performances bringing an extraordinary sense of colour and movement to their evocations of the profound mystery of the Australian landscape – and what lies beyond.

Listen on Apple Music

Title: Starwalker
Works: Music by Sally Whitwell, Nat Bartsch, Sally Greenaway
Performers: Matt Withers g, Sally Whitwell p
Label: ABC Classic ABCL0070D

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