Chiaroscuro Jane Sheldon and Zubin Kanga Phosphor Records Within seconds an atmosphere of calm envelops the listener to the sublime performances on this album. In her long association with many ensembles in Sydney, soprano Jane Sheldon became the leading exponent of contemporary vocal music, much of it written for her. Now based in New York, Sheldon’s world view has expanded, placing two Australian pieces in a global context. For Sheldon, Sydney-based composer Rosalind Page has arranged her beguiling settings of several poems by Federico Garcia Lorca for voice and piano. Daniel Rojas’s tango-infused Sonata (2010) revisits the magic realism of his compatriot Pablo Neruda. Both works reward repeated and intent listening. Neither requires any qualification or depiction as Australian music.
Given a kind of Latin American patina to this recording, it is perhaps odd that Sheldon chose to record music by American composer George Crumb that does not reflect his lifelong fascination with Lorca. Instead, she gives a mesmerising performance of Crumb’s Apparition (1979) with texts by Walt Whitman. Sheldon’s voice, crystal-clear and devoid of blemishing vibrato, recalls that of the early Jan DeGaetani, for whom Crumb wrote most of his vocal music some decades ago. Sheldon is blessed in having Australian-born Zubin Kanga, presently based in London, as her accompanist. Understated and elegant, Kanga’s pianism shows an impeccable approach towards the veiled and subdued nature of this music, drawn together under the apt title Chiaroscuro. Indeed, the music and performances inhabit that shadowy world of light and shade to perfection. Two beautiful short pieces by Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho and several numbers from Arnold Schoenberg’s The Book of the Hanging Gardens round out a deeply satisfying hour of listening.