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Reviews/Fringe World Festival/Music

Harmonies and humour

11 February 2021

Superb singing and hysterical readings delight a surprised Leon Levy in Madrigals and Madness.

Madrigals and Madness, St Andrew’s Church, Subiaco ·
St Andrew’s Church, 10 February, 2021 ·

The Fringe World Festival has always ranged far and wide in its offerings, but not many would have expected to find performances of an obscure musical form deep within the program.

The madrigal enjoyed a surge of interest across 16th and 17th-century Europe when, typically, secular texts on subjects like love and loss were set, unaccompanied, in four or more parts, one voice to a part. As a guest in one of the great English houses, one might be handed a book of madrigals and be required to sing for one’s supper: entertainment for the aristocracy in those musically literate circles, but hopefully also for a silent but appreciative audience of servants.

For this Fringe show, performed on two nights, the singers were three ladies and two gentlemen, with a speaker whose increasingly unhinged readings explained the “madness” in the program’s title. Apart from an Italian encore, the music consisted of works from the great English flowering of the genre. The performers – Brianna Louwen, Bonnie de la Hunty, Gabrielle Scheggia, Jason Kroll and Francis Cardell-Oliver – were not identified on the night but deserve to be named: the artistry and precision they brought to the evening were indeed of a high order.

And without breaking out of the decorous world of madrigal, there were moments where individual voices, via discreet emphasis, elicited from the harmony a satisfying frisson. While the bass line may be the least flamboyant in these settings, the opportunity to provide a satisfying foundation to the performance was fully realised by the performer.

It has to be noted that though the St Andrew’s Church acoustic ensured the singing was wreathed throughout in sound of exceptional warmth and beauty, this obscured the words, both sung and spoken. So while the familiarity of Lear’s nonsense poem, The Owl and the Pussycat, enabled it to be communicated successfully, in other readings, it was the personality of the speaker, Elwyn Edwards, as much as the elusive words that conveyed the flavour of his delightful material.

But there was no mistaking the sheer excellence of what was laid out before us. It’s not likely that the servants in the English stately homes would have heard anything as fine, and it is surely greatly to the credit of both Fringe World and the organisers that such rarely performed material should have seen light of day.

Pictured top: The excellent performers from “Madrigals and Madness”. Photo: Andrew Gardner

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Author —
Leon Levy

Leon Levy‘s career was spent in commerce, but in retirement continues a lifetime’s interest in the arts generally and choral singing in particular. He enjoys occasional reviewing with its challenge of giving total focus to each performance. Leon remains attracted to playground slides under the cover of supervising his grandchildren.

Past Articles

  • WASO Chorus gives voice to a forgotten treasure

    Cherubini’s church music compositions are today largely overlooked, but proved a fine choice for the WASO Chorus, writes Leon Levy

  • A gem revealed

    Yet another concert cancelled, but in this case the WASO Chorus and UWA Symphonic Chorus were redeployed and Leon Levy finds the program immensely rewarding.

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