An octet performs with a painter and canvas on either side
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Musical pictures

Review: Giovanni Consort ⋅
St George’s College, May 4 ⋅
Review by Leon Levy ⋅

Expectations were high for the opening recital of the Giovanni Consort’s 2019 concert series. Soprano Brianna Louwen, recently returned from the UK with considerable credentials, took the bold directorial approach of seeking to reflect the themes in tableau form as a means of taking the music and words to an enhanced level.

Christ (actor Paul Rowe) was led to the cross as Gesualdo’s O Vos Omnes commenced and, largely swathed in black, he and his background black panel became the canvas upon which artist Kristie Coakley expressed her interpretation. Later, during a section of Monteverdi’s opera Lamento d’Arianna, Arianna (Brianna Louwen), in billowing white, took up her position and received the same treatment.

Brianna Louwen as Arianna, painted by Kristie Coakley. Photo Susie Penco.

Gesualdo and Monteverdi, 16th century composers hailing from what was eventually to become unified Italy, largely faded from view until comparatively recently, despite the prominence they achieved during their lifetimes. Gesualdo, with his bold use of chromaticism, unexpected progressions and challenging dissonances, perhaps took Renaissance music as far as it could go; Monteverdi on the other hand looked firmly towards the new style of Baroque composition.

The opening work, Gesualdo’s brief O Vos Omnes of 1603, is a striking example of the composer’s ability to incorporate the unanticipated to most stirring effect and it provided an inspired start to the evening. Then followed the two major works on the programme, Gesualdo’s Tenebrae Responsories for Holy Saturday and Monteverdi’s Lamento d’Arianna, the latter a surviving excerpt from a lost opera set as a madrigal. A bracket of madrigals by both composers brought the short recital to a conclusion.

One would have had to go far to hear singing of such accomplishment. With one voice to a part, no conductor and no instrumental support, there was no hiding imperfection… and there was truly none to hide.  The octet was impeccable both in ensemble and exposed line, and cadences were a joy to behold, miracles of balance and poise.

As regards the non-musical component, the Consort was extraordinarily unaffected by the necessarily continuous movement of the artist, who made herself as inconspicuous as was possible in the circumstances. On the negative side, the evolving scenes before us tended to impose a rather homogenous atmosphere of unrelieved misery on the proceedings, and the contrasts that one might have expected to hear between the two composers did not readily emerge.

While both Gesualdo and Monteverdi have secured their places in musical history, performances of their works are sufficiently rare as to make the Giovanni Consort’s programme greatly welcome, especially in such technically immaculate performances.

Pictured top: the Giovanni Consort at St George’s College. Photo Bourby Webster.

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Music, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Choral cross-section

Review: Australian National Choral Association, Choralfest “Gala Concert” ⋅
Fremantle Town Hall, April 13 ⋅
Review by Leon Levy ⋅

The Australian National Choral Association’s Choralfest must have been heaven for lovers of choral music. Four days in Fremantle filled with talks, masterclasses workshops, concerts and pop-up events can’t but have been an inspiring, illuminating – and probably exhausting – experience for all involved.

The festival ran from April 13-16 and the epicentre was Saturday night’s Gala Concert which showcased an impressive cross-section of the participating choirs, both local and national.

Young Voices of Melbourne provided a delightful opening as the men, lined up across the stage, started Away from the Roll of the Sea, conducted from the floor by Mark O’Leary, while the rest of the choir filed in through the hall and added their voices. Clear diction and disciplined singing did justice to the evocative melody, as did accompanist Julia Piggin. An arresting Aboriginal chant took Waltzing Matilda a considerable distance from comfortable nostalgia as, with didgeridoo effects and paired sticks, an atmosphere of both the indigenous and introduced bush world was created. The tricky arrangement was skilfully negotiated.

The Australian Waratah Girls’ Choir (conductors Lindy Connett and Jennifer Scott) opened with a work inspired by the Ash Wednesday Fire, with music by Matthew Orlovich who also assembled the words. Loss, defiance, and a good deal of feeling were conveyed, and flame-red dresses only underlined this reaction to the tragedy. Tundra, in stark contrast, displayed striking vocal leaps, cleanly achieved, with beautiful solo voices emerging from the choral backdrop.

The all-female Perth Harmony Chorus under Carol McIntyre, the largest of the evening’s ensembles, displayed well-integrated sound as well as relaxed enthusiasm. Three items showcased their joy in singing: In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning was tenderly and affectingly performed, although the accompanying gestures from the choir were superfluous.

The Australian Voices choir has distinguished itself in the promotion of Australian new music and conductor Gordon Hamilton’s introductory explanations were appreciated, an essential adjunct to appreciation of the two unfamiliar works, Flight and We Apologise. The first, by Berlin-based Australian Jaret Choolun, was something of a technical tour-de-force; the latter, an ingenious slowing down and scoring of a recording of Kevin Rudd’s historic utterance, where the captured overtones were all represented in this setting. Fascinatingly, the conductor then replayed the choral sound successively faster until it matched the speaking voice of the former PM.

A pause in the programme allowed the announcement of the winners of the ANCA Choral Composition Competition Open Section, one of whom, Brian Connell, was in attendance to acknowledge his award. His setting of Siegfried Sassoon’s poem Secret Music written from the Western Front, is a work of gathering power and was conveyed by Voyces with great feeling and conviction.

The Giovanni Consort then eased us back into the compositional world that we are fortunate enough to have inherited, with music of almost ineffable beauty. The renditions of Holst’s I Love my Love and Perth musician Perry Joyce’s excerpt from The Song of Solomon were flawless: two gems within the evening.

Finally Voyces, with conductor Robert Braham and accompanist Jonathan Bradley, provided further balm for the soul in Jake Runestad’s adaption and setting of American naturalist John Muir’s Come to the Woods, whose opening few words could indeed be an anthem for Perth. The course of the day to sunset was faithfully reflected in both singing and accompaniment, and seemed a most appropriate conclusion to an evening of varied choral music, performed to a standard of high accomplishment.

All involved are to be congratulated and the only suggestion is that in future texts be provided, even if at a small cost.

Pictured top: Australian Voices

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