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2022 reviews

Piazzolla – a Century of Tango

Piazzolla – a Century of Tango
Ayșe Göknur Shanal (soprano), Monica Cichon (violin), Aleksandar Zivkovic (cello) and Eugenie Tamplon (piano), for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 20 February, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

Listening to the soprano, Ayşe Göknur Shanal, sing the tango music of composer, Astor Piazzola, you could be forgiven for believing the songs had been written especially for her. Her singing was so intensely personal and passionate that the meaning of the songs hardly required any translation. Her rich, clear soprano is perfectly suited to the songs of Piazzola. To sing them well, with their driving and changing rhythms, great technical skill and the ability to give the songs the emotional level they require, is essential. Every song was performed superbly but there were a number of highlights. The first song presented, ‘Ballad For My Death’ was startling in its intensity and ‘For The Head’ with its familiar tune was given a romantic and highly emotional performance. ‘Oblivion’ was full of passion and ‘Goodbye Nonino’ was heart-breakingly moving.

The accompanists played a number of Piazzola’s instrumental works as well as the songs. ‘Otono’, ‘Psychosis’ (piano and cello), ‘Invierno Porteno’ and Libertango’ were all extremely well-played. This concert for Art Song Canberra by Ayşe Göknur Shanal was as memorable as her previous one, ‘A Journey From East To West’, in 2018. She is a fine singer who clearly loves to sing and she is not afraid to perform the full range of emotions in the works she presents. In addition, her down to earth and friendly personality gives her an immediate connection with audiences. If she returns for more concerts, and I hope she does, she is not to be missed. Ayşe Göknur Shanal has won many prestigious awards and scholarships here in Australia and overseas. She has performed widely in the USA, UK, Europe and Asia including Opera Ausralia, Turkish State opera and Opera Queensland. She was accompanied by Monica Cichon (violin), Aleksandar Zivkovic (cello) and Eugenie Tamplon (piano). Each artist has a formidable list of qualifications and performance credits. Astor Piazzolla was an Argentine tango composer, bandoneon player, and arranger. His work revolutionized the traditional tango into a new style termed nuevo tango, incorporating elements from jazz and classical music. A virtuoso bandoneonist, he regularly performed his own compositions with a variety of ensembles. He was 71 when he died in 1992.

Len Power
Canberra Critics Circle, Feb 21, 2022

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Celebrating a century of tango

Piazzolla – a Century of Tango
Ayșe Göknur Shanal (soprano), Monica Cichon (violin), Aleksandar Zivkovic (cello) and Eugenie Tamplon (piano), for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 20 February, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

CELEBRATING a century of tango, The Storytellers Ensemble played music by Astor Piazzolla and his contemporaries that marked their contribution to classical music. The performers were Ayșe Göknur Shanal, soprano, Monica Cichon, violin, Aleksandar Zivkovic, cello, Eugenie Tamplon, piano. In the first Art Song Canberra concert for the year at the Wesley Music Centre, this quality quartet, The Storytellers Ensemble performed the delicious sound of the tango. This living music openly represented the sinuous movements and backward kick of the tango. Beginning with “Ötono” by Piazzolla, for the trio of piano, violin and cello, the immediate presence of first-class playing jumped out at this reviewer. The depth of the performance matched equally by the intensity of this passionate music. It burst into the ears. Shanal came onto the stage for Piazzolla’s “Ballada para mi Muerte”. Like a prayer, Shanal sang and spoke about death, tobacco and the tango. Filled with fire and melancholy, the players sounded like a small orchestra.

Then “Vuelve al Sur”. The complexity and uniqueness of this song is what stood out. Combined with the passion of the lyrics and the performance made for some exceptional music. Two songs by Carlos Gardel followed. The mellow music of the “El dia que me quieras”, a more traditional art song, still had an expressive quality that sank straight into the heart. Then, “Par una cabeza”. Used in many movies, it had a lot of kick in its short timeframe. It makes you want to move. Four more works by Piazzolla followed. “Psychosis”, for piano and cello, had a deeply passionate rhythm and flowing lines that made this music instantly recognisable; it was played deliciously. Then, something special, Piazzolla’s setting of the “Ave Maria”. This was a unique experience. While more like a sad love song than a prayer, it melts a listener. “Oblivion”, which is set in French, was full of beautiful musical effects. The lyrics, which were part spoken in the middle, combined with the soft slow lilt of the strings, the driving passion of the piano and the powerful vocal over the top, created a soaring and compelling performance. The magical music of Alberto Ginastera came next, his “Canción al árbol del olvido”. This subtly deceptive work moved at a walking pace; the tune flowed between the cello and the soprano. It never gets above middle volume and seems to end suddenly; this was more than fascinating.

The final three works by Piazzolla saved the best for last. His song titled “Adios Nonino”, about the death of his father cut deeply. “Libertango” pounded out its rhythm and poignant melody. Then, “Che Tango Che”. With castanets, played by Shanal as she sang, added extra depth to this dynamic work. I’m sure many in the audience wanted to get up, dance and kick up their heels. Gorgeous music, wonderful playing, and passionate singing, what more could anyone ask for, but we got more, an encore. Once again, the darkly beautiful and sensual, “Oblivion”.

Rob Kennedy
CityNews, Feb 21, 2022

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Christina Wilson sings it with ‘great sensitivity’

Persons of Interest
Christina Wilson (mezzo-soprano) and Alan Hicks (piano), for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 3 April, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

IN Art Song Canberra’s latest concert, “Persons of Interest”, mezzo-soprano Christina Wilson and pianist Alan Hicks took us on a journey back through time. Many art songs have been written about figures real and imaginary, from myth and legend and from history and literature and the concert focused on a number of these. Characters such as Orpheus, King David, Desdemona, Mignon and many others have been inspirational to composers over the centuries including Franz Schubert, Joseph Haydn, Edward Elgar, Arthur Sullivan, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Richard Rodney Bennett and others. “Orpheus with His Lute” by Arthur Sullivan, set to the text by William Shakespeare from his play, “Henry The Eighth”, was the first item in the program. Christina Wilson sang it with great sensitivity, the warmth of her rich mezzo-soprano voice and her clear diction took the audience deep into the sweeping imagery of the song.

As the concert progressed, Wilson sang other musical settings of the same “Orpheus” text by composers such as Ralph Vaughan Williams and Ivor Gurney. It was fascinating to compare the approach to this text by these very different composers. There were sets of songs by Franz Schubert including three Mignon songs, “A Garland for Marjory Fleming” by Richard Rodney Bennett to a text written by an eight-year-old girl, “The Shepherd” by Nigel Butterley to words by William Blake, songs for texts by William Shakespeare and others. It’s very difficult to come up with highlights at a Christina Wilson concert as she sings everything with such skill and beauty. In addition, she has the dramatic ability to create the characters she is singing, adding an extra dimension to the songs. She and Alan Hicks work so well together, the results are simply sublime. There was, though, one song that really stood out from the others because it was sung unaccompanied by Wilson. It was “The Singer”, composed by Michael Head to a text by Bronnie Taylor. This haunting song was a magnificent showcase for the purity of Wilson’s voice and the skill of her vocal technique. Once again, Christina Wilson and Alan Hicks produced a concert of great quality that was highly entertaining. The near capacity audience’s appreciation of their work was evident by the enthusiastic applause at the end of the show.

Len Power
CityNews, April 4, 2022

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The unfamiliar world of 19th century singing

Schubert und Schiller
Koen Van Stade (tenor) and Neal Peres Da Costa (fortepiano), for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 22 May, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

THE evolution of musical instruments and singing techniques over the centuries is an interesting field for research. It can be quite exciting to hear music played on early instruments and discover how vocal techniques have changed. In their concert for Art Song Canberra, “Schubert and Schiller”, tenor Koen van Stade and pianist Neal Peres Da Costa, took the audience on a journey into the now unfamiliar world of 19th century singing. Neal Peres Da Costa played a fortepiano, a replica grand piano from Franz Schubert’s time of the early 19th century. It has a smaller keyboard compared to a modern piano and produces a distinctively softer, but very clear sound. Koen van Stade sang a number of Schubert songs from the period. He began with three “Wanderer” songs set to texts by different poets. They were superbly sung with great vocal control and feeling and it was immediately noticeable that he was using some unfamiliar vocal techniques. Between songs he explained the techniques he was using and their historical significance. It added another dimension to this fascinating concert. Audience members showed great interest in the fortepiano, inspecting it up close during the interval. Noting the audience’s interest, Neal Peres Da Costa gave a talk about the fortepiano and demonstrated its differences to the modern piano. He then gave a sublime performance of Schubert’s “Impromptu No. 3”, a work familiar to audiences and a good choice to show the different sounds made by the fortepiano. The main vocal part of the concert was the singing of two songs by Schubert set to epic poems by Friedrich von Schiller – “Die Bürgschaft” (The Pledge) and “Der Taucher” (The Diver). Both van Stade and Da Costa gave thrilling performances of these highly dramatic and complex works.

Peter Chandler, speaking to the audience for Art Sound Canberra, quipped that the works were “a bit more exciting than your average lieder”. He was right and the whole concert was also an unexpected and very pleasing immersion into 19th century music and singing.

Len Power
CityNews, May 23, 2022

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Delightful concert of familiar and unfamiliar romantic classics

Romantic Classics
Andrew Goodwin (tenor) and John Martin (piano), for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 24 July, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

THE list of classic romantic songs by Fauré, Hahn, Poulenc, Schumann, Strauss, Mahler and Rachmaninov and piano works by Chopin was attractive enough to attend Art Song Canberra’s concert, but the combination of tenor, Andrew Goodwin, and pianist, John Martin, made it an event to remember. Sydney-born Andrew Goodwin became the first Australian to study classical singing at St Petersburg State Conservatory in Russia. He has gone on to a busy international career singing at some of the world’s greatest opera houses and concert halls. He is a passionate champion of art song. In a colourful career of great variety, pianist John Martin has worked with many stars of the Australian and international concert and theatre scenes. The concert commenced with the song, “After a Dream”, by Gabriel Fauré. Andrew Goodwin sang it with great tenderness. The clarity and control of his voice was remarkable and he made this wide-ranging song sound effortless to sing. He followed with “At the Water’s Edge” by Reynaldo Hahn and, again, it was sung extremely well. His singing of the final sustained high note was hauntingly beautiful.

“To Chloris” by Reynaldo Hahn showed how striking it was that Goodwin could convey so much emotion through these songs with subtle vocal inflections. He then showed his acting skills as well with an extroverted and colourful performance of “:Paganini” from Poulenc’s “Métamorphoses” song cycle. Other highlights included “Morgen!” by Richard Strauss, “Where the Splendid Trumpets Sound” by Gustav Mahler and “Lilacs” by Sergei Rachmaninov. Every song was superbly accompanied by Martin and the lively and humorous interaction of the two men between songs showed their working relationship was an enjoyable one. Martin performed two solo works. His playing of Chopin’s highly romantic “Waltz in C# minor, Op. 64 No. 2” was sublime. He followed it later in the concert with another work by Chopin, “Impromptu No 1 in A flat, Op. 29”. Again, it was played superbly and with so much feeling. The audience responded with enthusiastic applause. This was a delightful concert of familiar and unfamiliar romantic classics by two highly skilful artists.

Len Power
CityNews, July 25, 2022

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Taking the Lied and coming up roses

The Time of Roses
Jill Sullivan (mezzo-soprano) and Donna Balson (piano), for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 16 October, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

ART Song Canberra’s “The Time of Roses” was presented by mezzo-soprano Jill Sullivan and pianist Donna Balson who explored the flowering of the romantic lied.

The duo set the audience adrift with the divine sounds, while following the Lied’s development over the years through the works of various composers. Throughout the cleverly curated program, roses served as a motif in a story that symbolised the human life cycle and a spectrum of emotions from love and excitement to grief and sadness. Opening with Beethoven’s “Adelaide Op.46”, Sullivan and Balson’s presence immediately lit up the room. The piece was well balanced and subtle, which demonstrated a high degree of musicality by the duo. This was then followed by Wagner’s “Im Treibhaus” and “Träume”, which offered a heavier, more solemn mood. Sullivan’s subtle inflections conjured up the music’s emotional character and notions of being sunken under the intoxicating power of love and desire for something unattainable. Inspired by an old Irish folk song, Mendelssohn’s “Fantasia in E major – The Last Rose of Summer” was performed for solo piano. Balson’s playing was incredibly sensitive and tender, which portrayed an image of a lonely rose, nearing the end of its life in the summer heat. The notes flew effortlessly under her fingers as the sparsely ornamented melody developed in a theme and variation – or rather what Balson suggested as “improvisation and response”. Combining the next pieces into one seamless work were a set of five lieds by Brahms. A mix of giddy, innocent short works such as “Botschaft Op.47, No.1”, “O komme holde Sommernacht Op.58, No.4”, and “Meine Liebe ist Grün Op.63, No.5” weaved their way around more poignant and plaintive pieces such as “Sapphische Ode Op.94, No.4” and “Immer leise wird mein Schlummer Op.105, No.2”.

Following an interval, the duo resumed the stage with various magical and transient works by Greig, Mahler and Strauß. Balson then presented yet another arrangement of “The Last Rose of Summer,” this time by English composer, Benjamin Britten. Straying from the romantic German Lied theme, this piece was a welcomed nuanced gem in the program. Despite conveying an affection of loneliness and seclusion, the music could not have been more colourful as Balson expressed the rich harmonies on the piano. She moved with such grace and command of her instrument that the music effortlessly wove its way around the room. The final pieces of the concert were a set of seven compositions by Sibelius; “Flickan kom ifrån Op.37, No.5”, “Illale Op.17, No.6”, “Kom nu hit, Död Op.60, No.1”, “De bägge rosorna Op.88, No.2”, “Norden Op.90, No.1”, “Demanten på marssnön” Op.90, No.6”, and “Svarta Rosor Op.36, No.1”. Seldom performed in favour of more mainstream French, German and, Italian repertoire, these works in Swedish and Finnish were truly stunning. Sullivan’s singing displayed incredible dynamic variety and expression which showcased the range of emotions illustrated in the poems. Her mellow and dulcet lower register was complemented by the light arpeggiated lines of Balson at the piano. The sweep of enthusiasm and innocence of young love through to the notion of intense grief were conveyed convincingly by both musicians. Concluding with a seemingly more sprightly encore piece, Sullivan and Balson presented a wonderfully curated program that showcased the blooming of the romantic Lied laced with an apt imagery of roses and nature. Overall, it was both a convincing and enjoyable performance.

Dante Costa
CityNews, Oct 17, 2022

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The Time of Roses

The Time of Roses
Jill Sullivan (mezzo-soprano) and Donna Balson (piano), for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 16 October, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

Think of roses and their romantic scent the scent and it’s no wonder composers wrote so many songs focussing on this flower. In ‘The Time Of Roses’, Art Song Canberra’s latest concert, mezzo-soprano, Jill Sullivan, and pianist, Donna Balson, presented a range of songs and music celebrating roses and romance by composers such as Beethoven, Schubert, Wagner, Grieg, Mahler, Sibelius and Mendelssohn. Jill Sullivan, mezzo-soprano, has performed throughout Australia in opera and concert. She has performed with Opera Australia, the West Australian Opera and the Queensland Opera. She has an extensive concert, chamber and recital repertoire. Donna Balson, pianist, worked in Germany for 25 years. She now teaches at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. She has also performed as a singer internationally. The program began with ‘Adelaide’ by Beethoven. Sullivan’s rich mezzo-soprano was notable for its power and clarity as well as her clear diction. She gave a fine performance of this song, bringing out an appealing rapturous sensitivity. Other songs by Schubert and Brahms followed but the highlight of this first half of the concert was two of the Wesendonck Lieder by Richard Wagner, ‘In the Hothouse’ and ‘Dreams’. They displayed the power of her voice and her interpretation of the songs with their emotional range was thrilling. Donna Balson played the ‘Fantasia in E major – The Last Rose of Summer’. It was a fine performance, bringing out the loneliness and reflectiveness of the work.

The highlights of the second part of the concert were Grieg’s ‘I Love But Thee’, two songs by Richard Strauss, ‘Red Roses’ and ‘The Roseband’, and the Sibelius setting of Shakespeare’s ‘Come Away Death’. All of them were an excellent showcase for Sullivan’s rich and powerful voice. Donna Balson’s accompaniment was assured throughout. Donna Balson also played Benjamin Britten’s ‘The Last Rose Of Summer’ with a moving sensitivity and warmth. Both performers gave down to earth information about the songs and piano works played. It was a memorable concert by these two fine artists.

Len Power
Canberra Critics Circle, Oct 17, 2022

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Soprano shares the wonders of spring

Primavera!
Sarah Mann (soprano) and Ella Luhtasaari (piano), for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 20 November, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

UNEXPECTEDLY, soprano Sarah Mann was first heard but not seen as she entered from the back of the Wesley Music Centre singing an Amy Beach song. Her hauntingly beautiful voice was fresh, sunny and warm, like the perfect spring day. The songs of “Primavera!”, in Art Song Canberra’s latest concert, were all chosen to evoke the wonders of spring. Works by Joseph Canteloube, Maurice Ravel, Richard Strauss, Claude Debussy, Roger Quilter, Enrique Granados and Amy Beach made up the program. Mann is an accomplished performer, teacher and administrator. She has performed more than 26 principal soprano roles in opera, operetta and oratorio, as well as performances with state and national arts organisations. She is fondly remembered by Canberrans in the role of Cosette in the early ’90s first production of Canberra Philharmonic’s “Les Miserables”.

Ella Luhtasaari is a collaborative pianist and teacher based in Canberra. She completed bachelor degrees in music and psychology at the ANU and completed post-graduate studies in Austria and the UK. She is a vocal and language coach at the ANU School Of Music. Three “Songs of the Auvergne” by Canteloube were a perfect next choice with their sense of the countryside in spring. The second song, “Spring Water” was a teasingly beautiful highlight and was delightfully sung by Mann. The accompaniment for all three songs by Luhtasaari was excellent. Other highlights included a sublime marriage of voice and piano with “Morgan” by Richard Strauss and, in the second half of the program, ‘”Elegia Eterna” (Eternal Lament) by Granados was dramatic with high, sustained notes that seemed incredibly difficult, but Mann sang with apparent ease. The other Granados work on the program, “Gracia Mia” (My Graceful One) was jubilantly sung and the joyful Roger Quilter’s “Love’s Philosophy” from a poem by Shelley was so memorable and obtained such a positive reaction from the audience. It was welcomed again as an encore. This was a memorable concert by Mann, who clearly loves what she does, and had the good fortune to have such a superb accompanist as Luhtasaari.

Len Power
CityNews, Nov 21, 2022

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