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Reviews/Music/Perth Festival

A stimulating journey

2 March 2021

Leon Levy had anticipated an intriguing program, and says Sara Macliver’s superbly executed recital, ‘One & Many’, with its mix of old and brand-new music, was all he could have hoped for.

‘One & Many’, Sara Macliver with Wind Quintet Plus, Perth Festival ·
Hackett Hall, WA Museum Boola Bardip, 28 February, 2021 ·

The best Festival events are surely those where much of the joy lies in the anticipation. This was certainly the case before Sara Macliver’s recital, the elements comprising an intriguing amalgam of music spanning nearly nine centuries in improbable settings and sequences.

The chant, Ave Generosa, by Hildegard von Bingen, the 12th century Benedictine abbess, was a bold choice for an opening statement, but it was a stunning one: Macliver’s pure voice seemed to float in from the heavens to fill Hackett Hall as she slowly processed along the aisle. The accompanying marimba and oboe sounds that then emerged from the gallery, barely audible, represented a masterstroke of scene-setting, instantly crystallising the atmosphere of a far-removed world.

There was nothing in the program to prepare us for the aria, Wie zittern und wanken, from Bach’s Cantata BWV 105: marimba and oboe accompanied Macliver’s expertly executed runs and leaps … and, against the odds, it worked.

We were now clearly on a journey of the unexpected, not least in the choice of three movements from a Mozart wind serenade (K388) as the third item on the roster. The key of C minor characterises Mozart’s darkest utterances and this, as well as the linking prominence of Stephanie Nicholls’s plangent oboe, perhaps explained the success of the transition from Bach’s depiction of the tormented conscience. If this, then, was not initially the breezy romp that a wind serenade would suggest, the last movement of an immaculately executed performance burst into joyful exuberance.

Wind Quintet Plus provided the accompaniment in ‘One & Many’.

But now came the question as to how a single song torn from Schumann’s much loved Dichterliebe cycle could possibly be incorporated. Im Rhein, im heiligen Strome is one that demands the heaviest vocal weight for the opening evocation of Cologne’s mighty river and cathedral, before melting into tenderness at the portrait of the Virgin. How was Macliver’s silvery soprano going to meet the challenge of such opposing vocal demands? Very well, as it happened. Summoning a tone that one hadn’t suspected was there, and accompanied by Wind Quintet Plus (WQ+) in Iain Grandage’s arrangement, this song stood on its own feet, while the simple tolling of the cathedral bell at the close set the seal on something rather wonderful.

And so the program continued on its stimulating journey, any possible reservations abandoned. In the selection of five of Canteloube’s Songs of the Auvergne, percussionist Paul Tanner proved to be a wizard on his assortment of instruments, providing an unbuttoned accompaniment in the first song that sounded just right and, in the fourth, causing the night stars to twinkle protectively on the abandoned girl of the song’s story. Macliver, who must have sung these works on countless occasions, brought freshness to these rustic songs, as well as emotional sensitivity and subtlety to the over-exposed Baïlèro that made it a joy to hear again.

Rebecca Erin Smith’s recent composition, Black Giants, is a Tura New Music commission, setting to music the writing of the Finnish poet Edith Södergran in which the colours of ocean and moonlight are evoked. Composed in response to the museum’s immense blue whale skeleton suspended above the audience, this atmospheric work was perfectly placed within the program, before Macliver and WQ+ sent us happily into the night with Strauss’s expression of love for his wife – and the soprano voice.

The recital was all that one could have hoped for, superbly executed by Macliver and WQ+, and devised (and located) with great musical intelligence and imagination by the Festival’s artistic director, Iain Grandage.

Pictured top: Sara Macliver. Photos supplied

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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.

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