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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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