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2020 reviews

Owens takes on ‘male’ songs with emotion

Girls Wearing the Trousers
Sarahlouise Owens, soprano, and Natalia Tkachenko, piano, for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 1 March, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

Gender bending in theatre has become trendy of late with women now taking on classic male roles like Richard III and Hamlet and we’ve recently seen a male giving his performance of Buttercup in “HMS Pinafore”. In music there’s a vast repertoire of songs that have been traditionally denied to women and vice versa. Soprano Sarahlouise Owens, in her concert, “Girls Wearing Trousers” breaks through that barrier and presents a range of songs normally sung by males. This was not being done as a feminist diatribe, she said in her introduction, just levelling the playing field. Sarahlouise Owens has worked extensively in Europe and is a graduate of the ANU School of Music and Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester. Her accompanist Natalia Tkachenko graduated with honours from the Moscow State Institute of Music and worked extensively in Moscow, France, Germany and South Korea before residing and working with the ANU School of Music in Canberra. The first half of the concert consisted of the complete 20 Dichterliebe songs by Robert Schumann. Composed in 1840, this is the best known of Schumann’s song cycles. The words of the songs are from the Lyrisches Intermezzo poems of Heinrich Heine.

Striking the right emotional level from the first song, Owens’ performance of this work was highly memorable. The songs range across various emotional states and she gave readings of great depth and power where appropriate and contrasted this with sensitive and delicate singing for the quietly emotional songs. Her clarity of diction was especially notable in the swiftly sung song number 3, “The Rose, the lily, the dove and the sun”. After interval, Owens performed works by Lili Boulanger, Dimitri Shostakovitch and Alexander Alabiev. Boulanger’s “Clearings in the Sky” songs are hauntingly beautiful and were beautifully sung with a controlled emotional intensity. A performance of three of Shostakovitch’s “Satires Opus 109” followed and their humour provided a delightful change of pace. Natalia Tkachenko’s accompaniment for the different styles of all three composers was masterful. The finale of the concert was Alexander Alabiev’s beautiful song, “Solovei” (Nightingale). It was sung with clarity and great feeling by Owens, bringing this fine concert to a close. The emotional content of these songs clearly applied equally to both sexes. Sarahlouise Owens showed that it was entirely appropriate for either gender to sing them.

Len Power
CityNews, March 2, 2020

The Unexpected Journey Back

The Unexpected Journey Back
Sonia Anfiloff, soprano, Kylie Loveland, piano and Rowan Harvey-Martin, violin and viola, for Art Song Canberra
Saturday 17 October, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

After 9 years in Vienna, soprano Sonia Anfiloff has returned to Canberra. The choice of songs in her Art Song Canberra concert entitled, ‘The Unexpected Journey Back’, reflected her emotional response to her journey through life so far, the good and the bad. She presented a wide-ranging and challenging choice of songs by Vaughan Williams, Korngold, Sibelius, Wagner, Copland, Brahms, Duparc, Richard Strauss and Rachmaninoff. Anfiloff was accompanied by Kylie Loveland on piano and, on certain songs, by Rowan Harvey-Martin on violin and viola. Both Loveland and Harvey-Martin are very well-known and respected performers here in Canberra and beyond. The program commenced with ‘Silent Noon’ by Ralph Vaughan Williams. This beautiful song set the emotional tone for the concert and it was sung with great delicacy and feeling by Anfiloff. She was able to demonstrate both the power of her rich soprano voice as well as her ability to judge the right level of emotion that this song needs to be a very moving experience for an audience.

As the program continued it became clear how carefully the songs had been chosen to display Anfiloff’s voice and her ability to sing them with accuracy and feeling. The dramatic passages of ‘Was it a dream?’ by Jean Sibelius were very well sung and the piano accompaniment by Kylie Loveland was superb. Wagner’s ‘In The Hothouse’, was sung with great introspection and two works by Brahms were emotionally very effective. The viola playing by Rowan Harvey-Martin was especially notable in the first Brahms song, ‘Assuaged Longing’. The final three songs of the concert by Henri Duparc, Richard Strauss and Sergei Rachmaninoff were the highlights of the concert. All very different works, they gave Sonia Anfiloff the opportunity to show her full range of skill and artistry. ‘In The Glow Of Evening’ by Strauss was especially memorable. ‘Spring Waters’ by Rachmaninoff provided a welcome note of optimism and was sung with great spirit. For an encore, Anfiloff sang Henry Mancini’s ‘Crazy World’ from the 1982 movie, ‘Victor Victoria’. The emotion of this contemporary song fitted perfectly with the program of songs she had just presented, bringing this fine concert to a satisfying close.

Len Power
Canberra Critics Circle, October 18, 2020

Passionate songs tell of unexpected journey

The Unexpected Journey Back
Sonia Anfiloff, soprano, Kylie Loveland, piano and Rowan Harvey-Martin, violin and viola, for Art Song Canberra
Saturday 17 October, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

IT’S been seven months since my last music review for “CityNews” due to COVID-19 and this concert of art songs, as its title suggests, has led to an unexpected journey between performances. The title of this concert, “The Unexpected Journey Back”, illustrates soprano Sonia Anfiloff’s journey to date through her voice to her life. It is also about how life imitates art and art imitates life. Performing with Anfiloff were Rowan Harvey-Martin on violin and viola and Kylie Loveland piano, who all teach at the same school. For Art Song’s first concert in more than seven months, they began with “Silent Noon” by Vaughan Williams. This sensitive song flowed with a lilt and subtlety that made it feel quite contemporary. Anfiloff’s voice carried it clearly and sensitively as did Loveland on piano. A composer not heard nearly enough in the concert hall followed, Erich Wolfgang Korngold. His sweeping Hollywood movie music sound lay in the background for his splendid song “Unvergänglichkeit”, which means immortality. “Var det en dröm” by Sibelius is an elegant song that asks, was it a dream? Anfiloff sang with a powerful volume through its delicate moments. Her prevailing voice soared through the centre in this intense work.

Wagner’s “Im Treibhaus”, seemed almost untouchable. Anfiloff’s softness and finesse echoed through this haunting tune. A repetitive motive on the piano kept reminding the audience just how lingering great music like this is. The moments where Anfiloff sang unaccompanied hit a poignant high mark. The poem “Heart, we will forget him”, by Emily Dickinson was set to music by Aaron Copland. This short song steps along at a slow pace. Copland made his music sound like the sensitive expressions this poem holds. Anfiloff and Loveland made this work so well. Then, for the Brahms songs in “Zwei Gesänge”, Rowan Harvey-Martin joined the pair with her viola. The addition of this voice made the sound much more complex. The stringed voice added ample mystery to this sweet yet formidable work. Anfiloff’s voice got a little lost under the volume of the other instruments at times during the first of these songs, which was titled “Gestillte Sehnsucht”. In the second, “Geistilches Wiegenlied”, the three performers balanced well in this gentle lullaby. Songs by Duparc and Richard Strauss followed, then for the final work on the program, Rachmaninoff’s “Spring Waters”, from his 12 romances Op. 14. In this work, the audience was hit with the full dramatic power of Anfiloff’s voice. This wholehearted song ripped out with such intense power as Anfiloff gave it her all, knocking this reviewer back in his seat. Anfiloff then spoke saying she had never not given an encore then gave the audience a Broadway song from Victor Victoria, “Crazy World”. This clearly mirrored what Anfiloff and this world have been going through. The quality and presence of Anfiloff’s performance never dimmed in this quite special song.

It was wonderful to hear live music again, especially to hear these passionate songs performed so strongly. It was great to have performers back again and to see a group hug from this trio at the end.

Rob Kennedy
CityNews, October 18, 2020

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By Royal Favour

By Royal Favour
Sarahlouise Owens, soprano, and Natalia Tkachenko, piano, for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 22 November, 3pm/4.15pm. Wesley Music Centre

Richard Wagner and many other famous composers relied on the generous patronage of royal personages who commissioned large amounts of repertoire. Educated in the arts, many royals were also known to compose music and prose as well. In their Art Song Canberra concert, ‘By Royal Favour’, Sarahlouise Owens, soprano, and Natalia Tkachenko, piano, presented various favourites of Royals of the 19th century, concentrating on the Victorian and Romanov courts. Sarahlouise Owens has worked extensively in Europe and is a graduate of the ANU School of Music and Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester. She has established herself as a busy concert artist and recitalist of Art Song since her return to Australia. Natalia Tkachenko graduated with honours from the Moscow State Institute of Music and worked extensively in Moscow, France, Germany and South Korea before residing in Canberra and working with the ANU School of Music.

Music composition had formed an important part of the early musical education of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband. Three of his songs were included in the concert – ‘Serenade’, ‘To A Messenger’ and ‘Mourning Song’. All three were romantic and melodic and Sarahlouise Owens sang them simply but with great feeling. Queen Victoria and Price Albert were great admirers of the music of Felix Mendelssohn. His song, ‘First Loss’, was given a hauntingly beautiful performance by Owens and her fine singing of ‘Italy’, by Mendelssohn’s sister, Fanny, evoked the rich colour and atmosphere of that country. Songs by the well-known Russian composers, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov and Rachmaninov were also presented. Tchaikovsky’s ‘I Opened A Window’ and ‘First Date’, set to poems by Konstantin Romanov, the grandson of Emperor Nicholas I of Russia, were especially well sung by Owens. The piano playing by Tkachenko of ‘First Date’ was outstanding. Also included were songs by the now lesser known but famous in their day, Samuel Maykapar and Arseny Koreshchenko. ’My Dreams Shone In Them!’ by Maykapar was a hauntingly melodic work that was sung with notable delicacy and great warmth by Owens.

Once again, Sarahlouise Owens presented a well-researched concert that gave the music an added level of historical and human interest. With her fine singing and the superb piano playing of Natalia Tkachenko, we were treated to an expert and enjoyable concert.

Len Power
Canberra Critics Circle, November 23, 2020

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Sinuous sounds to emotional wrath in recital

By Royal Favour
Sarahlouise Owens, soprano, and Natalia Tkachenko, piano, for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 22 November, 3pm/4.15pm. Wesley Music Centre

ROYALTY from across the world have always supported composers and musicians, and in this concert, soprano Sarahlouise Owens and pianist Natalia Tkachenko presented much-loved music by the royals of the 19th century. Sounding particularly imperial, the concert opened with a serenade from Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha – that’s Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria. Owens, with her distinct flair and animation sang the part of a serenader with aplomb. Then another song by the Prince, “To a Messenger”, a short, smooth song performed delightfully by Tkachenko on piano. Felix Mendelssohn’s song “First Loss” had a greater air of seriousness and musicality. This song of lost happiness flowed seamlessly from both soprano and pianist. Then another work by the Prince. This one with the quirky title of “Mourning Song”, which rolled up and down the keyboard, and from Owens, a delightful, held-back refinement of well-placed vocal articulations. Moving on to the other Mendelssohn, Fanny, her song “Italy” describes this country as “this land of poetry”. This jumpy, happy tune bounced with bright colours.

Tchaikovsky’s Romances two, three and four, of the six songs in his cycle covered a lot of musical and emotional territory. From sweet, sinuous sounds to the impassioned expressions of a “First Date” experience, these works had Owens expressing her considerable talent throughout the emotional wrath of the three songs. “My Dream Shone in Them!”, by a composer this reviewer had never heard of, Samuel Maykapar from Russia, who was also a pianist, showed how great a composer he was. The strength of this song lay in the variety of styles it contained. It was a completely moving piece. Two songs by another great Russian composer and orchestrator, Rimsky-Korsakov, portrayed the growing unrest before the Bolshevik Revolution. These art songs were filled with edgy singing and the second song “Not the Wind” was the most passionate tune performed in the concert. Two songs by the Russian composer Arseny Koreschenko followed. Then Rachmaninov with the final songs on the program “Prayer” and “Don’t Sing, My Beauty”, performed with expert control by Owens. Both showed off the range and flawlessness of her voice. To honour the English operatic soprano Anna Bishop, whose husband Henry Bishop wrote “Home Sweet Home”, Owens encored with a delightful, soul-filled rendition of this song that sings of the pleasure of returning to one’s home. Perhaps this was a simile for coming out of the uncertain times that surround us.

Rob Kennedy
CityNews, November 23, 2020

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Enveloped by the power and joy of music

To Music
Bethany Hill, soprano, and Penelope Cashman, piano, for Art Song Canberra
Saturday 12 December, 3pm/4.15pm. Wesley Music Centre

MUSIC can take us out of ourselves and bear us away from life’s challenges. Taking their inspiration from the words in Franz Schubert’s song “An Die Musik” (To Music), Bethany Hill, soprano, and Penelope Cashman, piano, gave us a concert that did exactly that. Hill is an Adelaide soprano who is equally at home on the operatic stage and in intimate chamber-music settings. She is a passionate performer of early music and has appeared as a recitalist around Australia. She has performed roles in Purcell’s “Dido & Aeneas”, roles in several Mozart operas, Schoenberg’s “Erwartung” and Handel’s “Saul”. Cashman is an Adelaide-based pianist, vocal coach, performer, teacher and researcher. As pianist and repetiteur, she has worked for the State Opera of SA, Opera Queensland and other companies here and overseas. The program commenced with a group of songs that focused on the relationship between music and poets. The first song, “If music be the food of love”, composed by Henry Purcell and arranged by Benjamin Britten, had words by Henry Heveningham. Bethany Hill sang it beautifully, her clear voice soaring with expression.

It was followed by Schubert’s “An Die Musik”, with words by Franz von Schober. This was the signature work of this concert and was sung with great feeling, enveloping the audience in the power and joy of music. “The son of the muses”, composed by Schubert to the words of Goethe, displayed Hill’s accurate singing and clear diction in this fast-paced song. Songs relating to nature and, particularly the beauty of flowers, followed in this well-planned concert. A group of three songs composed by Roger Quilter were haunting, reflective and wistful. Hill sang them all with a warmth and tenderness that was very appealing and Penelope Cashman’s accompaniment was excellent, especially in “The Wildflower’s Song”. Her heartfelt singing of “The Last Rose of Summer”, a traditional song arranged by Benjamin Britten, was one of the highlights of the concert. The clarity of Hill’s voice was then fully displayed with her gentle a cappella singing of “I’ll meet you there” by Australian composer, Jodie O’Regan. The final works by composers Erich Korngold and Leonard Bernstein showed the wide range of Hill’s vocal skills. Cashman’s playing of the final part of Korngold’s “Marietta’s Song” was particularly notable. This was the first time these performers have appeared for Art Song Canberra. Let’s hope they return for another concert as fine as this one.

Len Power
CityNews, December 13, 2020

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