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2019 reviews

‘Impressive’ singing on love and life

Love and Life
Rebecca Ryan, soprano, and Anthony Smith, piano, for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 31 March, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

In “Love and Life”, Art Song Canberra’s latest concert, soprano Rebecca Ryan and pianist Anthony Smith performed a thoughtfully prepared set of songs by Schumann, Duparc, Fauré, Berlioz and Richard Strauss. Rebecca Ryan is a graduate of Otago University in New Zealand and London’s Royal Academy of Music. She came to prominence singing the UK premiere of the newly discovered “Gloria” by Handel. She has appeared in concert performances world-wide and has sung a wide variety of operatic roles.

Anthony Smith is a Canberra-based composer and musicologist. He graduated from the ANU School of Music in 1999 and has performed in many countries around the world. He has worked as an accompanist for the ANU School Of Music for many years and is the repetiteur of three major Canberra choirs. The concert commenced with “A Woman’s Love and Life” by Robert Schumann. Rebecca Ryan’s fine soprano brought out all the colour and emotion of this eight part work. She was particularly impressive in the quiet and reflective “Sweet friend, you gaze” and the moving finale “Now you have caused me pain for the first time”. Anthony Smith’s accompaniment for this verse was especially fine. This was followed by two romantic songs by Henri Duparc. The highlight of these two works was “Chanson Triste”, which was beautifully sung and played, as was Fauré’s dream-like “Autumn” and “Au bord de l’eau”.

After interval, Rebecca Ryan sang two songs by Berlioz. The quiet emotion of “Absence” was nicely contrasted with the brightness of “Villanelle” and both were sung and accompanied very well. The final work presented in the concert was “Four Last Songs” by Richard Strauss. Rebecca Ryan displayed the full power and richness of her voice with an excellent performance of all four songs. Her singing of “September” was especially moving and Anthony Smith’s accompaniment for all four songs was sublime.

Len Power
CityNews, May 19, 2019

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Memorable afternoon of song

Russian Lullaby
Songmakers Australia with Andrea Katz, piano, Merlyn Quaife, soprano, Christina Wilson, mezzo-soprano and Andrew Goodwin, tenor, for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 31 March, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

The first half was comprised of lullabies, some amusing and some that were darker in tone by composers Glinka, Tchaikovsky, Kabalevsky and Mussorgsky. “Cradle Song” by Glinka, a beautiful duet for soprano and tenor, was an excellent opening number, displaying the richness and fine blend of the voices of Quaife and Goodwin. Tchaikovsky’s “Winter Evening” was sung with great accuracy and feeling by Goodwin. Katz’s piano accompaniment for this song was exceptional. Wilson followed with an amusing “There Was an Old Woman” by Kabalevsky. Sung very well, her playing of this old woman also had real depth of character. Andrew Goodwin and Christina Wilson then gave us another finely sung duet with “The Lark” by Glinka.

After interval, artistic director and piano accompanist, Andrea Katz, set the scene for “From Jewish Poetry”, a song cycle by Shostakovitch. Composed in 1948 after the composer’s denunciation in 1947, the composer’s situation and the official anti-Semitism of the time made a public premiere impossible until 1955. The cycle is one of many works by Shostakovich to incorporate elements of Jewish music. The 11 songs of the cycle were all memorably sung. The opening song, “Lament over the death of a small child” was a chillingly beautiful work sung superbly by Quaife and Wilson.

Other highlights included “The dramatic father” sung by Wilson and Goodwin, “Zima” sung by all three performers, “Song of the girl” sung by Quaife and the finale, “Happiness”, again sung by all three artists. This was a nicely balanced concert with generally lighter works in the first half and a more sombre and dramatic tone for the second. Well sung by the three singers with fine accompaniment by Katz on piano, this was a memorable afternoon of song from Art Song Canberra.

Len Power
CityNews, May 20, 2019

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Venus Unwrapped

Venus Unwrapped
Sarahlouise Owens, soprano, and Natalia Tkachenko, piano, for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 23 June, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

Music history is dominated by male composers – Beethoven, Wagner, Mozart and so on. It was rare for women to have the opportunity to publish music they had composed right up to the 20th Century. In her concert, Sarahlouise Owens celebrates some of those women who managed the seemingly impossible. It was an education and a delight from start to finish. Soprano, Sarahlouise Owens, has returned to Canberra after an extensive career in Europe. She is a graduate of the ANU School of Music and Royal Northern College of Music Manchester. She is much in demand for performances in Canberra. Accompanist on piano, Natalia Tkachenko, graduated with honours from the Moscow State Institute Of Music. Since arriving in Canberra in 2003, she has performed as accompanist for the ANU School of Music and many major artists. She has also been recognized for her outstanding work as a piano teacher.

The pair presented a large and wide-ranging program of songs by female composers from the 18th through to the 21st Century. There were some familiar names such as the Boulanger sisters – Lili and Nadia, Cécile Chaminade, Pauline Viardot, Clara Schumann and Canberra’s Sally Greenaway. The wealth of fine music presented of the lesser known composers was astonishing. Sarahlouise Owens was in fine voice right from the beginning with a rousing performance of ‘The Bandits’ by Maria Malibran. She has a voice of great power and beauty and an ability to provide a depth of character to a song as well. Amongst the highlights of the first half of the program were a finely controlled performance of ‘The Idea’ by Chaminade, a bright and joyful ‘Morning Serenade’ by Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, a richly soothing ‘American Lullaby’ by Gladys Rich and an intensely dramatic ‘The Knife’ by Nadia Boulanger.

After interval, she gave a fine performance of a group of songs by Clara Schumann. ‘If You Love Beauty’ was the absolute highlight of the concert, sung to perfection. It was closely followed by a haunting ‘Lorelei’. Equally at home with modern works, she gave a heart-felt performance of Sally Greenaway’s mood piece, ‘Look To This Day’. The concert concluded with an amusing performance of ‘There Are Fairies At The Bottom Of Our Garden’ by Liza Lehmann. The accompaniment by Natalia Tkachenko was excellent throughout. Both women deserved and received a huge round of applause at the end of this memorable Art Song Canberra concert.

Len Power
Canberra Critics Circle, June 24, 2019

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Research sets concert up for great success

Venus Unwrapped
Sarahlouise Owens, soprano, and Natalia Tkachenko, piano, for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 23 June, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

KNOWLEDGE of female composers has somewhat been secreted away by music scholars and some performers over the years, but the general public’s awareness was generated with the release of the 1985 recording on the Hyperion label, “A Feather on the Breath of God”, which showcased the music of Hildegard of Bingen, a 12th century female composer of plain-chant. In the male dominated setting of monks as composers, from the time of Pope Gregory, to recognised individuals like Léonin and Perotin of Hildegard’s time and everything since, the world suddenly wanted to know more and the great Romantic composers Fanny Mendelssohn and Clara Schumann were thrust into the public spotlight.

We know that Maria Anna Mozart, elder sister of Wolfgang, affectionately known as Nannerl within the family, composed for the piano prolifically, through the volumes of surviving correspondence between the two:

“Dearest most loving sister of mine, the pieces you have sent me are of great beauty. I’ve played them over and over. I have sent you back these which I have written just for you. Please send me more of yours the moment you can. Your ever faithful and loving brother, Amadeus.”

How much of Nannerl’s music survives for us to enjoy? Not one single sheet.

Such was the research and magnitude of work that soprano Sarahlouise Owens and pianist Natalia Tkachenko put into their superb recital yesterday (June 23) at Wesley, where one beautiful captivating piece after another poured forth from their gifted musical talents. Tkachenko’s accompaniments are of the highest calibre and almost formed a concert presentation in their own right. I think the piano should have been on the short stick, rather than fully raised, as at times Owens was overwhelmed by Tkachenko’s outstanding and brilliant accompaniments.

Never-the-less this was a concert of great depth, which captivated and enthralled the audience from start to finish. Owens began well, but as the concert progressed her voice was noticeably warming up and reached a high point of warmth, depth and powerful projection that filled the auditorium voluminously. Her diction was excellent and she shines most brightly when singing French and German, with impeccable accuracy of pronunciation and delivery. In addition, she is a theatrical performer and her body language, facial expressions and gestures served to enhance an already intriguing and astonishing repertoire of song.

The period represented was female composers of the Romantic and early 20th century eras, and was extensive. Besides Fanny Mendelssohn and Clara Schumann, it included Maria Malibran, Cecile Chaminade, sisters Lili and Nadia Boulanger, Gladys Rich, Germaine Tailleferre, Pauline Viardot, Josephine Lang, Augusta Holmes, Lady Dean Paul, Louise Reichardt and Canberra’s own Sally Greenaway whose piece “Look to This Day” was complex in its piano accompaniment, having a melody, which somehow never seemed to match the piano chordal structure yet was in perfect compliment to it. A very clever piece of writing. To close, Owens and Tkachenko chose the comedic “There are Fairies at the Bottom of the Garden” by Liza Lehmann, which at the time of writing also served to perpetuate the infamous Cottingley Fairies photographic hoax of 1917. This concert was one of the most enjoyable, thoroughly well-researched and rehearsed Artsong presentations I’ve had the delight in attending for some time. I’m looking forward to the rest of the season.

Tony Magee
CityNews, June 24, 2019

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Pianist shines through music inspired by icons

Iconic Inspiration
Lisa Cannizzaro, soprano, Jeremy Tatchell, baritone and Elena Nikulina, piano, for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 18 August, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

Soprano Lisa Cannizzaro, baritone Jeremy Tatchell and pianist Elena Nikulina romped through the comedic, bouncy and theatrical “Well, Did You Evah!”, by Cole Porter, in a sparking opener to a varied and fascinating selection of songs inspired by or written for people of note through the 19th and 20th centuries. In a departure from the traditional “Artsong” format, which is normally the focus of these concerts, the piece even contained a dance sequence. The song shifts from standard quarter time to waltz time and finally a brisk two-step and was received with great enthusiasm by the audience.

Excellent vocal harmonies were complimented by the outstanding, sensitive and beautifully balanced piano accompaniments from Nikulina throughout the entire concert. She phases her playing in complete sympathy and poise with the singers and for me, was the star of the show. Both Cannizzaro and Tatchell present as theatrical performers in their stage presence and singing style, something which I enjoyed immensely. Tatchell’s biography lists an extensive array of serious classical music achievements in opera, oratorio and lieder. Curiously, there is no mention of musical theatre. He would make an outstanding Tevye in every respect – voice, looks, stance, authority and presence. A superb bracket of four French songs associated with Don Quixote by Jacques Ibert, entitled “Quatre chansons de Don Quichotte” (note the French spelling contrasted with the more usual Spanish version), were performed by Tatchell with excellent phrasing and diction, mostly colla voce in nature, with Nikulina supporting with immense depth and feeling.

“Simple Gifts” and “At the River”, both famous settings by Aaron Copland and performed for the inauguration of many presidents of the US, were sung beautifully and sensitively by Cannizzaro. Joaquín Valverde’s “Clavelitos” followed, most closely associated with the astonishing Florence Foster Jenkins – one of her specialty encore pieces. Unlike Jenkins, Cannizzaro pulled it off with panache and vocal styling of beauty and warmth. She has a most interesting dark timbre to her lower register, which blooms into a delightful well rounded soprano in the higher register. “Six Australian Bush Songs” by William G. James were shared by the two singers, Tatchell delivering “The Land of Who Knows Where” with a huge dramatic voice and then a thrilling finale with “The Stockrider’s Song”, during which his voice was noticeably warming up. Cannizzaro paid homage to Dame Nellie Melba with the gentle and reflective “Bush Silence” and “Bush Night Song”.

The sparkling duet “La ci darem la mano” from Mozart’s opera “Don Giovanni” opened the second half. The program also included a piece by Richard Wagner, dedicated to his long time supporter and champion, Ludwig II of Bavaria. Two duets by Felix Mendelssohn followed, commissioned by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, sung with precision and style by the two vocalists. Of particular beauty both in the compositional style and the performance by the trio were a bracket of three pieces by Gerald Finzi, entitled “Let us Garlands Bring”. These were specially written for and dedicated to English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, celebrating his 70th birthday. As an encore, the performers surprised everyone, including this reviewer, with the hilarious Peter Sellers and Sophia Loren classic, “Bangers and Mash”, where once again the music theatre qualities of the two singers poured forth most convincingly. A most enjoyable afternoon of song, garnished with incredible variety and, I will add one more time, the superb piano accompaniments of Elena Nikulina.

Tony Magee
CityNews, August 19, 2019

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Iconic Inspiration

Iconic Inspiration
Lisa Cannizzaro, soprano, Jeremy Tatchell, baritone and Elena Nikulina, piano, for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 18 August, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

‘Iconic Inspiration’ was an inspired idea for a program of art songs. Choosing songs associated, directly or indirectly, with certain famous people added additional interest for the audience as the program proceeded. The singers presented an appealing mix of songs from various composers including Mozart, Poulenc, Copland, Wagner, Britten and even Cole Porter and Gilbert and Sullivan. This was an especially fine concert with many highlights.

Lisa Cannizzaro, soprano, graduated from the Elder Conservatorium of Music and began her professional career in 2007 with South Australian touring company, Co-Opera. She has also sung several minor roles with the State Opera South Australia and has won several prizes for singing. Jeremy Tatchell completed performance studies in viola and voice at the ANU School of Music in 2001. He has performed with Co-Opera and the State Opera of South Australia and enjoys a busy oratorio and recital career. Elena Nikulina graduated in 1999 from the Donetsk State Conservatoire, Ukraine, with a Master’s degree in pianoforte and accompaniment. She has performed extensively overseas and, since moving to Canberra in 2006, as well as continuing to perform and accompany artists, she has won awards as a high-level piano teacher.

Early in the concert, Lisa Cannizzaro sang two songs by Aaron Copland – ‘Simple Gifts’ and ‘At The River’ – with a quiet assurance that gave these well-known songs an extra emotional dimension. She then quickly changed the mood to the fireworks of ‘Clavelitos’ by Joaquin Valverde. Her clear diction in this fast-paced song was especially notable. Jeremy Tatchell sang four Don Quichotte songs by Jacques Ibert with a fine sense of dignity and grandness that matched the subject. His ability to sustain some very low notes in the songs was impressive. Other highlights of the concert included Poulenc’s ‘Les Chemins d’amour’ sung with great warmth by Lisa Cannizzaro and dedicated to Picasso. Six Australian bush songs by William G. James, dedicated to Nellie Melba, were beautifully sung alternately by the singers and there was an especially fine accompaniment by Elena Nikulina. The duet ‘La ci darem la mano’ by Mozart was an excellent showcase for the blend of the two singers voices. Jeremy Tatchell sang a heartfelt ‘O du mein holder Abendstern’ by Wagner and Liza Cannizzaro movingly sang Britten’s ‘The Salley Gardens’.

Len Power
Canberra Critics Circle, August 19, 2019

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L’Heure Exquise

L’Heure Exquise
José Carbó (baritone), Andrew Blanch and Ariel Nurhadi (classical guitars), for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 22 September, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

With ‘L’Heure Exquise’, the premier Australian baritone, José Carbó, joined with emerging classical guitarists Andrew Blanch and Ariel Nurhadi to present a wide ranging program of classical works that, for the most part, had never been heard with a guitar accompaniment. The trio first appeared together at Canberra’s 2015 Voices In The Forest concert.

Helpmann Award-winning baritone, José Carbó, has performed in major opera houses internationally. He has recently been seen in a new production of ‘Tosca’ for Opera Queensland and in Graeme Murphy’s new production of ‘Madama Butterfly’ at the Sydney Opera House for Opera Australia. Andrew Blanch is recognised as one of Australia’s leading young classical guitarists. Since making his solo debut in 2017 at the Sydney Opera House, he has had a busy career performing internationally. Ariel Nurhadi is a Sydney-based classical guitarist who has performed in concert around Australia. Both he and Andrew Blanch are graduates of Timothy Kain’s renowned guitar class at the Australian National University.

Their concert featured music by Schubert, Fauré, Debussy, De Falla, Verdi and others. Carbó’s and the guitarists’ relaxed manner and interaction with the audience gave the concert a welcome intimacy. Opening with ‘O my sweet ardour’ by Christoph Gluck, José Carbó’s performance was full of romance and longing, perfectly complemented by the beautiful guitar arrangement. Other works sung superbly by Carbó included a haunting ‘Romance’ by Debussy and ‘The Curious One’ by Schubert with its very moving final verse sung with quiet sensitivity. Schubert’s nightmarish ‘The Eriking’ was given a well-paced, dramatic delivery and the highlight of the concert was a set of Spanish songs by Manuel de Falla which Carbó performed magnificently.

The two guitarists demonstrated their extraordinary skills with performances of three very different works by Rameau, Gnattali and Piazzolla. Watching these superb artists playing the most complex passages in these works was breath-taking. The program finished with José Carbó singing ‘Cortigiani vil razza dannata’ from Verdi’s ‘Rigoletto’. His powerful voice and acting ability demonstrated why he is one of Australia’s foremost opera singers. Although normally sung with a full orchestra, the accompaniment arranged by the trio for guitar was fascinating and honoured Verdi’s original work.

Once again, Art Song Canberra provided a unique and compelling concert.

Len Power
Canberra Critics Circle, September 23, 2019

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Exquisite guitar work accompanies soaring baritone Carbó

L’Heure Exquise
José Carbó (baritone), Andrew Blanch and Ariel Nurhadi (classical guitars), for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 22 September, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

When Franz Schubert set the poems of Goethe, Schiller and Müller to music, he frequently used the opportunity to create more of the piano part than simply a pretty accompaniment to a singer’s voice. The piano could also be a character in the story, sometimes an implement, or even a force from nature. In Der Erlkönig (Goethe), the piano represents a galloping horse, thundering through the night. On board are a father, clutching his desperately sick child. Together, the three urgently speed for the nearest medical help. The singer has to portray four different characters in the lyric. The father, the son, the narrator and also, tragically, death calling to the boy. All this, when played properly, delivers one of the most captivating pieces of music of the Romantic vocal repertoire.

So closed the first half of a brilliant concert by the José Carbó Trio at Wesley Church, Saturday last. In arranging the piano accompaniment for two guitars, Andrew Blanch and Ariel Nurhadi took on one of the most difficult musical challenges imaginable, something which baritone José Carbó talked at length about before they performed the piece. Musically, the playing was sublime and provided an exquisite base over which señor Carbó sang the four characters so well, one could easily distinguish who was who, aided by his impeccable German diction. The duo guitars don’t quite capture the thundering hooves of the horse, however they bring to the piece a fresh new vibrancy, in which the pianistic sense of urgency is replaced by multiple senses of serenity, calm, forboding and deception.

I think there is more to explore right at the end, as the guitars really need to portray the horse pulling up to a stop – they have arrived. Devastatingly, the singer mournfully and slowly reveals: “In seinen Armen das Kind war tot.” – In his arms, the child was dead.

The trio closed the concert with a powerful and stirring rendition of the aria “Cortigiani vil razza dannata” from Verdi’s “Rigoletto”. Carbó’s voice filled the church voluminously and presented the audience with a climactic finish that elicited rapturous applause from the near capacity audience. Also on the program were the songs of Gluck, Debussy, Faure, de Falla, Hahn and Tosti. In all these cases, the arrangements are by the trio, reduced from orchestrations or piano accompaniments and translated into the most exquisite duo guitar settings, providing José Carbó with a sound wash almost as a cushion of clouds, over which his pure voice floats in heavenly motion.

The combination is unique and the quality is such that the three could be placed on a stage anywhere in the world and receive ovations of delight. In particular, there is scope for an entire Schubert lieder recital. A huge amount of work obviously for guitarists Blanch and Nurhadi, but one which would present the world with a new, refreshing and unique insight into some of the most stunning poetry, melodies and accompaniments in the history of literature and music.

Tony Magee
Canberra Critics Circle, September 24, 2019

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Trio strum piano pieces in ‘rare’ concert

L’Heure Exquise
José Carbó (baritone), Andrew Blanch and Ariel Nurhadi (classical guitars), for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 22 September, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

Art Song Canberra’s “Season of Song” took a rare turn over the weekend with the appearance of the José Carbó Trio, in which the vocalist was joined on the platform not by a pianist by two refined classical guitarists. Operatic baritone Carbó, whose fan base was evident from the large turnout, told “CityNews” he had, in a vision following Canberra’s 2015 Voices in the Forest concert, seen himself joining guitarists Andrew Blanch and Ariel Nurhadi, both star graduates of the ANU School of Music. And from that the trio was born. They have been working hard over the past four years translating instrumental music to guitar and the end results are a form of perfection.

“We truly are a trio, not just a singer with accompaniment,” Carbó said as he explained why he sat on a chair to perform, putting himself on the same level as the guitarist, and using a microphone to help modulate his sound so it did not overpower the guitars. At times he held the mike close to his mouth, at others far away. But Carbó is no spoilsport, so for the opera buffs who had come to hear him, he tossed away the mike in the final moment of the recital to give a full-blooded account of Verdi’s aria “Cortigiani, vil razza dannata” (Courtiers, vile damnable rubble) where the venomous court jester Rigoletto begs pity from the very people he has ridiculed.

Elsewhere, almost noiseless delivery was the rule, seen in “Les Berceaux” by Faure, performed by all three with a mixture of exceptional concentration and control. This was such an artfully contrived concert that the high point was set dead centre in the program. Introduced by Carbó as “a monster of a lied”, Schubert’s “Erlkönig” (elf or spirit king), based on Goethe’s dramatic poem of the same name, is considered fiendishly difficulty for any pianist, so it had taken “an enormity of work” to set it for guitar. The results were impressive, the percussive possibilities of the guitar revealed in the galloping sounds of a horse carrying the man and his sick child through a storm. The lied is shocking in its depiction of an innocent children beset by force of the spirit world, perhaps death but more likely a soul-destroying evil force. Here Carbó sang four characters — narrator, father, child and Erlking — all in different vocal registers, while the guitarists added the atmosphere and the menacing sounds of the night.

A sense of quiet power dominated the second part of the program, reaching its apogee in the performance of Manuel de Falla’s six popular Spanish songs, arranged by the trio and sung by Carbó in his mother tongue, Spanish. In “Seguidilla murcianas”, the impression of a dialogue between the singer and the two guitars was pronounced, continuing in the address to a pine tree, “Asturianas”, later used by the trio as the encore. Making it clear that this recital was more than a vehicle for a great baritone, Carbó left the stage on several occasions so that Blanch in the lead and Nuriadi could performed purely instrumental works by Rameau, Gnattali, de Falla, and in homage to Carbó’s Argentine origins, Piazzolla.

But it was in their performance of “Erlkönig” that the José Carbó Trio showed just how magnificent a trio can be.

Helen Musa
Canberra CityNews, September 24, 2019

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