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2018 reviews

Endearing soprano shares her beautifully clear voice

A Journey From East To West
Ayse Gӧknur Shanal, soprano, and Alan Hicks, piano, for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 25 February, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

When a concert leaves you feeling excited and energised for hours afterwards, you know it was an exceptionally good one. That was the feeling following Art Song Canberra’s concert with the delightful and talented soprano Ayse Gӧknur Shanal accompanied superbly by Alan Hicks on piano. Ayse has won many prestigious awards and scholarships here in Australia and overseas. She has appeared in principal roles with Opera Australia and Turkish State Opera and has performed with most of the state symphony orchestras in Australia. The program gave Ayse the opportunity to display the full range of her beautifully clear soprano voice. It’s a powerful voice and she gave the impression that she still had plenty of power to spare. It would be great to hear her in a large venue.

The program commenced with a set of Turkish and Armenian folk songs. The songs demand a strong technique to sing them well and Ayse was more than equal to the task. These folk songs cover a wide range of emotions and were a perfect showcase for the singer. Alan Hicks accompanied the singer superbly. It must have been quite a challenge to play these works with their unfamiliar and often complex driving rhythms. The full program included gypsy songs by Dvořák and works by three Russian composers. The Dvořák songs suited her voice and abilities admirably and Ayse was particularly impressive singing “What I secretly dream about” by Rimsky-Korsakov, “Wild Nights, Secret Nights” by Tchaikovsky and “Spring Waters” by Rachmaninov. She sings the emotional content of these songs so genuinely that she draws you deeply into the music.

As well as being a fine singer, Ayse gave interesting and heartfelt details about the songs and her reasons for singing them. As well as a having a fine voice, she has a gift for embracing an audience with her down to earth and endearing manner. This was an excellent first concert for 2018 for Art Song Canberra.

Len Power
CityNews, February 26, 2018

 

Memorable concert of fine singing

Songs of Solitude
Susannah Lawergren, soprano, and Benjamin Burton, piano, for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 8 April, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

The works chosen by soprano Susannah Lawergren for her Art Song Canberra concert, “Songs of Solitude”, covered a wide range of composers from Schubert to Sibelius, Rachmaninoff, Grieg and even Rodgers and Hart. Divided into two halves, she began with “Winter Journey” songs. Opening with, appropriately, four of Schubert’s “Winterreise” songs, Lawergren’s fine soprano gave these songs a nicely introspective quality. “Will-o’-the-Wisp” was the highlight of this set.

“Was It A Dream?” by Sibelius was beautifully sung and Benjamin Burton’s piano accompaniment for this piece was masterful. Lawergren advised us that the song, “The Forest Sleeps” by Swedish composer Hugo Alfvén had been sung at her wedding. It was clear from the heart-felt performance she gave of this song that it meant a great deal to her. Also in the first half of the program, Benjamin Burton gave a hauntingly beautiful performance of the piano solo “Clair de Lune” by Debussy.

The second half of the program looked at “Solitary Characters”. Lawergren displayed the purity and clarity of her voice with “The Listening Mary”, singing unaccompanied and out of sight off-stage. She followed this with a pleasingly atmospheric “Solveig’s Song” by Grieg.”‘The Desire For Hermitage” by Samuel Barber was also very well sung. Also notable in the second half was her fine performance of “The Organ-Grinder” by Schubert with a notably well-played accompaniment by Burton.

Two contemporary works by Ricky Ian Gordon were for me the highlight of the concert. Lawergren sang the contrasting songs with a nicely-judged depth of character and great feeling. Burton’s accompaniment was especially fine with the tricky rhythms of “I Am Cherry Alive”. The program finished with two amusing Broadway songs that were fun but not as successful as the rest of this fine program. Her encore of Grieg’s “The Time of Roses” was an excellent choice to finish an afternoon of memorable music and fine singing.

Len Power
CityNews, April 9, 2018

 

Sublime afternoon of songs and piano works

Melodies From the Belle Époque in Paris
Laetitia Grimaldi, soprano, and Ammiel Bushakevitz, piano, for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 13 May, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

The Belle Époque (or “Beautiful Era”) was a period of about 40 years ending in World War I in which, especially in Paris, the arts flourished and many masterpieces of literature, music, theatre and visual art were created. Soprano Laetitia Grimaldi and pianist Ammiel Bushakevitz presented a sublime afternoon of songs and piano works by composers active in that period. This is the first time they have performed together in Australia. Laetitia Grimaldi Spitzer was born in France, lived in Lisbon and London and began her vocal studies with Teresa Berganza. She continued her studies in New York at the Manhattan School of Music and obtained a master’s degree from the Juilliard School. She enjoys a busy international career in recitals and opera. Ammiel Bushakevitz was born in Israel and grew up in South Africa. He studied in Leipzig and Paris and has won numerous prizes for his piano playing in Europe, performing regularly in festivals and concerts around the world.

Laetitia Grimaldi gave excellent performances of songs by Duparc, Canteloube, Fauré, Chaminade, Hahn and Delibes. Her relaxed manner gave her an immediate rapport with the audience and she sang confidently and with great precision. In the songs that required humour, seductiveness or deep emotion, she was especially convincing. The four songs by Chaminade were perhaps the highlight of her performance as she was able to show all facets of her voice and acting ability with these very contrasting works.

Ammiel Bushakevitz performed three piano solos by Liszt. “Les jeux d’eaux á la Villa d’Este” was a highly atmospheric work capturing the sound of the fountains at the Villa d’Este near Rome. Liszt’s “La mort d’Isolde” – a tribute to Richard Wagner’s work – captured the highly emotional finale of Wagner’s opera “Tristan und Isolde” and “Soirée de Vienne VII” was a lighter, joyful work. The three quite different works were an excellent choice to showcase Bushakevitz’s impressive mastery of the piano. This was an excellent concert with two highly skilled artists and a very well chosen set of works from the time of the Belle Époque.

Len Power
CityNews, May 14, 2018

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Love goes on a sad and joyous journey

Love’s Joy, Love’s Sadness
David Greco, baritone, and John Martin, piano, for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 1 July, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

When two of Australia’s most established performers get together it can only mean one thing, a concert of seasoned and professional music making. The music in this concert focused on the artist’s journey through life’s sadness and joys. The songs were performed by David Greco baritone and John Martin on piano. Beginning the concert with a selection of songs from the British Isles, they started with an alluring and sensitive song titled “King David” by Herbert Howells (1892-1983), which seemed to set the standard for an afternoon of songs that ranged from light to dark and everything in between, with a strong emphasis on melancholy.

Greco’s deep, clear and sensitive voice was matched by the rich and penetrating playing of Martin on piano, who turned out to be quite the entertainer as the concert progressed. The other songs from the British Isles came from Roger Quiller (1877-1953), Ivor Quilter (1890-1937), Ivor Gurney (1890-1937), Henry Purcell (1659-1695) and Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958). While this selection of songs ranged from a 300-year period, they blended together well as a program of connected tunes. The subtle expressions of Greco’s voice along with the intimate playing of Martin on piano made each song a unique experience. The song “In the black dismal dungeon of despair” by Purcell, arranged by Benjamin Britten, was as Greco said about the work, it’s about as dark as it gets. It sounded like the protagonist of the song ended up in the depths of hell.

During “Come away, come away death” by Quilter, Greco had to stop singing as his voice closed down on him. He explained that he’d had a cold recently it was still getting over it as he left the stage. While a remedy for Greco’s sore throat was being applied, Martin gave the audience a couple of piano solos and talked about his time touring with the English-Australian actress Miriam Margolyes and then played some Debussy they used in one of her shows.

After the interval, Greco was back on stage sounding almost like he never had a problem. Though it was clear his voice was still tentative, he pressed on for several songs from a selection of Schubert’s “Winterreise” (Winter Journey), even though he struggled slightly for the first few. Then, as a bolt from the blue, he sprang back to a full-throated performance in Schubert’s song “Dream of Spring”. And then, on to an even stronger and more dynamic recital of the song “Solitude”, which was dark yet thrilling. Greco discussed the final four songs with an in-depth knowledge of the Winterreise song cycle, and they were performed that way. The audience let the players know how much they enjoyed the concert and Greco’s stoic performance. But then, to the shock of this reviewer and I’m sure to the audience, they performed an encore. To come back and do this after having to go off stage earlier was a sign of great professionalism, proving the quality of both performers.

Rob Kennedy
CityNews, July 2, 2018

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Love’s Joy, Love’s Sadness

Love’s Joy, Love’s Sadness
David Greco, baritone, and John Martin, piano, for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 1 July, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

Exploring the eternal themes of wandering, belonging, lost and unattainable love, David Greco, baritone, and John Martin, piano, provided a feast of glorious music in this Art Song Canberra concert. Australian born David Greco’s rich baritone has been heard internationally with engagements by some of the world’s most exceptional ensembles and festivals and he has worked on the cutting edge of the early music movement in Europe. He has appeared in roles with Opera Australia and Pinchgut Opera as well as concerts with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and at the Melbourne Recital Centre. Pianist, John Martin, has appeared with David Hobson, Marina Prior, Yvonne Kenny and many other major Australian artists in concert and cabaret. He is now gaining a reputation as a fine composer with some thirty works published.

The first half of the concert explored English art songs by the composers Herbert Howells, Roger Quilter, Ivor Gurney, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Henry Purcell. The songs chosen showed the full range and quality of David Greco’s great voice. He was equally at home with highly dramatic passages as well as the control and tenderness required for quieter moments. Highlights included three contrasting songs by Gurney, ‘It Was A Lover And His Lass’ by Quilter, ‘Linden Lea’ by Vaughan Williams and ‘In My Black Dismal Dungeon of Despair’ by Purcell. John Martin provided an especially fine accompaniment for Gurney’s ‘Desire in Spring’. Although his voice had shown no sign of difficulty, David Greco wisely chose to take a short unscheduled break due to the effects of a recent cold. John Martin filled in with two superbly played piano solos by Grieg and Debussy.

Returning after interval, David Greco continued the concert without problem. He sang 15 selections from Franz Schubert ‘Winterreise’ song cycle, a test for any singer. He gave a sensitive performance of the first song, ‘Gute Nacht’ (Good Night), and displayed fine control and emotion in the song ‘Rast’ (Rest). The hint of madness in ‘Der Greise Kopf’ (The Old Man’s Head) was well sung and the final song, ‘Der Leiermann’ (The Hurdy-Gurdy Man) was memorable for the haunting quality he gave it. As well as singing and playing so well, both Greco and Martin gave relaxed and informative information about the works performed. Their easy rapport with the audience added much to the enjoyment of this memorable concert.

Len Power
Canberra Critics Circle, July 1, 2018

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‘Memorable’ folk songs full of history and emotion

What the Folk Sing
Christina Wilson, mezzo-soprano, and Alan Hicks, piano, for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 9 September, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

Folk songs record the rich stories and histories of peoples everywhere – the social, emotional, and political. Presented by Art Song Canberra, “What the Folk Sing” was a well-researched and memorably performed concert of folk songs by eminent composers such as Grainger, Bartók, Dvořák, Brahms, de Falla and Copland. Covering such a wide range of folk songs from different countries presents the considerable challenge of singing in a variety of languages. Mezzo-soprano Christina Wilson sang confidently in Hungarian, Czech, German and Spanish as well as English. Alan Hicks provided expert accompaniment on piano with the variety of composers and their distinctive music.

Wilson’s performance was exceptional in all aspects. Her voice has a richness and clarity that is very appealing and she displayed a deep understanding of the intent of the chosen songs – nationalistic fervour, emotional passion, the humorous side of life, a sense of culture and time long vanished and the sorrow of lost love. Commencing with songs by English composers, Wilson gave particularly beautiful and heart-felt performances of “The Bold Young Farmer” by Ralph Vaughan Williams, “Willow Willow” by Percy Grainger and “Barbara Allen” by Roger Quilter.

These were followed by two sets of songs by Hungarian Bela Bartók and Czech composer Antonín Dvořák. Wilson sang the emotional content of the Bartók songs with great control and warmth and with welcome flashes of humour. Hicks provided a memorable piano accompaniment throughout but especially for the fifth song. The Dvořák songs were notable for their portrayal of nationalistic pride and Wilson brought out this feeling with subtlety and realism. The Spanish songs by de Falla were sung with passion and sensuality and contrasted nicely with the rich songs about love by Brahms.

Moving from Europe to America, the three different types of songs by Aaron Copland were very well sung. Wilson gave the lullaby, “The Little Horses”, an especially delicate and haunting quality. The program concluded with a finely controlled emotional warmth for “Black, Black, Back is the Colour” by the more contemporary composer John Jacob Niles.

Len Power
CityNews, September 10, 2018

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The Degenerate and the Fop

The Degenerate and the Fop
Sarahlouise Owens, soprano, and Colleen Rae-Gerrard, piano, for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 21 October, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

In Art Song Canberra’s latest concert, soprano, Sarahlouise Owens, with Colleen Rae-Gerrard on piano, delved into songs and cabaret music from the Weimar Republic era in Germany as well as other music from around that time and later by French, English, American and Russian composers. There was even a song by an Australian composer. The Weimar Republic was the unofficial historical designation for the German state from 1918 to 1933 and, in spite of post-war inflation and political turmoil, it was a time of great creativity in theatre, film, fashion, music and the cabaret scene. Sexual freedoms and experimentation flourished. It all ended when Hitler and the Nazis came to power in 1933. Many artists, especially Jewish artists, were considered ‘degenerate’ and forced to flee the country.

The concert commenced with the cabaret songs of the still living American composer, Dominick Argento. ‘You Are A Love Song’ was especially well sung by Owens, giving great feeling to the romantic theme of the song. Moving on to songs by Francis Poulenc, her languid performance of ‘Hôtel’ from Poulenc’s ‘Banalités’ was amusing as well as nicely sung with a finely sensitive accompaniment by Colleen Rae-Gerrard. Good performances of songs by the German composers, Max Reger and Hanns Eisler followed. The Eisler song, ‘Mutter Beimlein’ was of particular interest as the text was written by Bertolt Brecht. The first half of the concert finished with two songs by Erik Satie. Owens sang ‘Je te veux’ very well and had a lot of fun with ‘Diva Of the Empire’, coquettishly sporting a large hat for the occasion.

The sexual freedom of the Weimar republic was represented by Mischa Spoliansky’s ‘Masculine and Feminine’ song and the cheeky, tongue-twisting song by Canberra composer, Peter J. Casey, ‘I Am Sick to Death of Hearing About the Weimer Republic’ was well-chosen. The highlights of the concert were two works by Reynaldo Hahn – ‘Chanson d’Automne’ and ‘Nocturne’, sung with great feeling by Owens with especially fine piano accompaniment by Rae-Gerard. The concert finished with two spirited works by Kurt Weill – ‘Berlin In Lights’ and ‘Buddy On the Nightshift’. With these songs, Owens demonstrated that she is a highly skilled performer of Weill’s characteristic music. This was a wide ranging and thoughtful set of songs performed very well by Sarahlouise Owens and her pianist, Colleen Rae-Gerard.

Len Power
Canberra Critics Circle, October 22, 2018

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A ‘fabulous’ afternoon of song

The Degenerate and the Fop
Sarahlouise Owens, soprano, and Colleen Rae-Gerrard, piano, for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 21 October, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

In this delightful program of song, presented by Sarahlouise Owens and Colleen Rae-Gerrard for Art Song Canberra, the material was eclectic and unusual, often humorous, sometimes delicate and sensitive and always very entertaining. Owens is a skilled and experienced performer of the older European genre of cabaret, securely founded in the underground and sometimes sleazy and dangerous networks of 1920s and 1930s Berlin and even earlier in Paris. In this repertoire she has few peers. Diction, delivery and exquisite pronunciation of the two languages, combined with a beautifully flexible voice carry the songs through soft romantic delicacies, delicious sting-in-the-tale jibes, soaring crescendos and powerful high-register climaxes.

Owen’s voice also seems founded in an older school of vocal style and tone production and on several occasions during the concert, I found myself thinking of the great Maggie Teyte. Beginning with a selection of five cabaret songs by Dominick Argento, the bracket showcased the composer’s eclectic style, which presented continuous challenges for the performers, who had to quickly turn from the unpredictable and unusual melodic and chordal structure of “Who Could Have Known” through the bawdy and funny “Luckiest Woman” to the gentle “You”, all handled with aplomb and panache. A delightful bracket of three pieces by Poulenc followed, grouped as “Banalités”. The highlight was “Hotel” which Owens introduced as possibly “the laziest song ever written”. Rae-Gerrard’s accompaniments were exquisite during these pieces and both performers captured the mood and sublime delicacy of these beautifully.

Max Reger’s “Abschied” is a song similar in style to some of those by Mahler and Richard Strauss. Rae-Gerrard achieved a beautiful cantabile tone in several piano-only melodic passages during this and the following “Maria Wiegenlied”, this time paying homage to Brahms. The first act closed with some of the most anticipated and appreciated repertoire by the audience and this reviewer, Satie’s “Je to veux” and “Diva du l’Empire”, superbly performed by both artists, the luscious French language once again demonstrating Owen’s mastery of it.

Highlights from Act II included three songs by Sir William Walton – all beautiful pieces with far-ranging and diverse vocal melodies and piano accompaniments. Peter J Casey’s brilliant and satirical “I Am Sick to Death of Hearing About the Weimar Republic”, a tongue-in-cheek musical homage to Kurt Weill, was delivered with comic intensity and style, although also the only time during the recital where the balance favoured the piano a little too much. Owen’s diction in her own language, curiously, wavers somewhat and is not to the same standard as her perfect French and German. Nonetheless, a still creditable performance. Reynaldo Hahn’s “Chanson d’Autumn” and “Nocturne” saw a return to the French repertoire and were very beautiful renditions – mournful, soulful and searching – with gorgeous piano accompaniments by Rae-Gerrard.

The program concluded with Weill’s “Berlin I’m licht” and “Buddy on the Nightshift”, the later being from his “Lunchtime Follies”, first produced in Brooklyn in 1942. The last two lines, “I’ll follow you, you’ll follow me, and how can we go wrong”, aptly summed up a fabulous and entertaining afternoon of song from two very professional performers.

Tony Magee
CityNews, October 22, 2018

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