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2016 reviews

A Traveller’s Tales

A Traveller’s Tales
Christopher Lincoln Bogg, Tenor, and Alan Hicks, piano, for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 28 February, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

Born in Canberra, Christopher Lincoln Bogg has enjoyed a long international singing career in opera, concert and recital. He explained at the start of his recital for Art Song Canberra that the selected works formed a retrospective that reflected his life’s journey – ‘A Traveller’s Tales’. It was a good selection of works, some well-known, some unusual, but all forming a well-balanced, enjoyable program. He commenced with ‘The Ploughboy’ by William Shield, arranged by Benjamin Britten, which showed immediately the power and clarity of his voice. He followed with three ‘Songs of Travel’ by Ralph Vaughan Williams. The second song ‘The infinite shining heavens’ was notable for the great tenderness with which it was sung. Works by Schubert, Schumann and Ravel followed. They were well-chosen, contrasting songs, giving him the opportunity to display every aspect of his fine voice.

The second half of the program began with the traditional ‘Song Of The Banana Carriers’. Knowing only the popular version by Harry Belafonte, I found it to be an interesting choice and it was good to hear it sung so beautifully. It was followed by two nicely contrasting songs by Arthur Benjamin and three by William Walton. The third Walton song, ‘Old Sir Faulk’ was a delightfully jazzy piece sung with humour and accuracy. One of the highlights of the recital was ‘Godfrey In Paradise’ from Lee Gracegirdle’s ‘Shoalhaven Lieder’. It was cleverly performed, bringing out all of the wit, humour and cheekiness of Clive James’ words. The music for this piece was sensational and played with great precision and obvious enjoyment by Alan Hicks. Lee Bracegirdle himself was in the audience, giving the singer and accompanist the thumbs up at the end.

An unexpected delight was a set of theatre songs by Stephen Sondheim which requires acting skills as well as fine singing. Although normally sung by female characters in the shows they were written for, both ‘Losing My Mind’ and ‘Send in the Clowns’ worked well for a male voice. ‘Remember’, from ‘A Little Night Music’ was especially enjoyable with Bogg’s sly delivery of the sub-text of this song. He sang the lyrics with great clarity, an essential requirement when singing Sondheim’s works.

This was an excellent recital of contrasting works that displayed the richness of Christopher Lincoln Bogg’s voice as well as his fine delivery. Alan Hicks accompanied the singer with great skill with his excellent piano playing.

Len Power
Canberra Critics Circle, February 29, 2016

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Tchaikovsky Romance

Tchaikovsky Romance
Rada Tochalna, soprano, Lucas De Jong, baritone and Janis Cook, piano, for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 19 June, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

‘Powerful and expressive’ is how pianist, Janis Cook, described Tchaikovsky’s music at the start of Art Song Canberra’s ‘Tchaikovsky Romance’ concert. The program of songs and music was cleverly arranged, starting from the joy and innocence of young love, through the pain of parting from a lover and the continual striving for happiness through love. Soprano, Rada Tochalna, began with ‘It Was In Early Spring’ and perfectly captured the innocence of youth in this beautiful song. ‘If Only I had Known’ displayed not only her fine voice but also her strong acting ability, making the doubt in the mind of a young girl waiting for her lover completely believable.

Lucas De Jong, baritone, joined with Tochalna in a duet, ‘Frenzied Nights’. His rich baritone nicely complemented her soprano in this nostalgic song. One of the highlights of the concert was Lucas De Jong singing, ‘Why?’, a sad song about the state of mind at the end of a romance. The song showed De Jong’s powerful voice and technique extremely well, bringing the emotion of the song through strongly. Accompaniment on piano for this song by Janis Cook was especially fine. Janis Cook also played two solo piano pieces superbly – ‘Prelude: The Seasons – April’ and ‘Interlude: Polka de Salon’ from the ballet, ‘Eugene Onegin’.

At the end of the concert, we were given the final scene from Tchaikovsky’s opera, ‘Eugene Onegin’ – a perfect choice for both singers to display the full range of emotion in both voice and acting. Their performances were powerful and very moving. All of the songs for the concert were sung in Russian and it was a delightful surprise to hear the singers perform an encore in English of the tongue-twisting song, ‘Tchaikovsky’, made famous by Danny Kaye in the Broadway musical, ‘Lady In The Dark’. This was yet another fine concert from Art Song Canberra.

Len Power
Canberra Critics Circle, June 20, 2016

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Where Go The Boats?

Where Go The Boats?
Louise Page, soprano, Phillipa Candy, piano, for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 31 July, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

‘Where Go The Boats?’ was the theme for Art Song Canberra’s latest offering with Canberra’s soprano, Louise Page, accompanied by Phillipa Candy on piano. It was a wide-ranging program of songs about the sea and other journeys of the soul, both happy and sad. In her spoken introduction to the concert, Louise Page advised that she had assured her family that she wasn’t making a political statement with the title of the program! What followed was a rich collection of songs by Britten, Liszt, Mahler, Mendelssohn, Fauré, Elgar and others. ‘Where Go the Boats?’ by Roger Quilter was the first item and it was gently and beautifully sung. ‘Three Salt Water Ballads’ with music by Frederic Keel to John Masefield’s poems showed that Louise Page is a fine actress as well as singer, clearly displaying a believable sense of longing in ‘Port Of Many Ships’ and the deliciously scary relating of the horror story of ‘Mother Carey’.

Other highlights of the concert included a superb set of Mahler’s ‘Songs of A Wayfarer’. Very nicely sung with great sensitivity, it was good to hear these with only a piano accompaniment. Heinrich Heine’s ‘The Lorelei’, with music by Franz Liszt, was sung with the right amount of drama in the telling of the story. Liszt’s music for this was beautifully played by Phillipa Candy. While singing in English, it’s notable just how clear Louise Page’s diction is. In addition, she maintains eye contact with her audience, drawing everyone into the music, drama and emotion of the songs she’s presenting. The solo musical item presented by Phillipa Candy – Maurice Ravel’s, ‘Une barque sur l’océan’ – was superbly played.

Late in the second half of the concert, Louise Page presented ‘War Song’ by Monique Carole-Smith, an intensely moving song about the loss of Anzac soldiers in the First World War. Her quiet, carefully understated singing of this beautiful work was the absolute highlight of the concert. The well-known ‘Leaving With You’ by Francesco Sartori was a great choice for the finale and was sung with grand emotion. Both Louise Page and Phillipa Candy are delightful, down-to-earth performers as displayed in their informative and often amusing spoken introductions to the works they presented. They created a relaxed atmosphere for the audience to thoroughly enjoy their glorious music in this memorable concert.

Len Power
City News, August 1, 2016

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Lyric Rhapsody

Lyric Rhapsody
Merlyn Quaife, soprano, Nicholas Dinopoulos, bass-baritone, and Andrea Katz, piano, for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 28 August, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

Art Song Canberra’s ‘Lyric Rhapsody’ concert presented three highly regarded artists in a concert showcasing the music of Johannes Brahms and Antonin Dvorak with a tribute to William Shakespeare thrown in as well. It was a nicely judged program of music that worked very well. The singers, Merlyn Quaife and Nicholas Dinopoulos, were in fine voice and the accompaniment on piano by Andrea Katz was superb throughout.

The first half of the program comprised ten songs by Brahms. In solos and duets, the two singers had every opportunity to display all aspects of their fine voices. Merlyn Quaife’s beautiful soprano voice and moving delivery of the ‘Lullaby’ was one of the highlights of this set of songs. Not only was it sung technically very well but, through her body language and eye contact with audience members, the singer drew us deeply into the emotion of the song. Nicholas Dinopoulos has a thrillingly powerful voice when singing dramatically but is equally impressive with the quiet, reflective passages of a song. He demonstrated this ability particularly while singing ‘Sapphic Ode’. The finale of the Brahms works was a duet, ‘The Path To Love’, which was not only sung very well but you could see how much the two singers enjoy working together. Andrea Katz’s piano accompaniment for this song was especially memorable.

The second half opened with three songs from Shakespeare’s plays. All were finely sung but the duet, ‘It Was A Lover And His Lass’ from ‘As You Like It’ was the highlight, again displaying the great chemistry between the singers. The last section of the program was a set of Moravian Folk Songs by Dvorak. All five were sung as duets. The highlight was ‘Scheiden Ohne Leiden’ (Separation Without Suffering) in which both singers displayed tender, heartfelt emotions as the song came to its sad conclusion.

This was yet another excellent program from Art Song Canberra with fine singing and piano playing. I’m looking forward to their next program on the 9th of October when Jeremy Tatchell, baritone, and Elena Nikulina, piano, will present ‘From Russia (and New Zealand) With Love’.

Len Power
Canberra Critics Circle, August 29, 2016

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Concert of contrasts, clarity and warmth

From Russia (and New Zealand) With Love
Jeremy Tatchell, baritone, and Elena Nikulina, piano, for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 9 October, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

“FROM Russia (and New Zealand) with Love” was a clever title for this Art Song Canberra concert, given the NZ origins of baritone Jeremy Tatchell and Ukraine’s pianist, Elena Nikulina. It also gave the pair the opportunity to sing and play very contrasting music from their birth countries. The first half of the program was devoted to works with a NZ background, showcasing songs by David Farquhar and Douglas Lilburn. “Five Songs of EE Cummings” were charming, uniquely worded poems with music by David Farquhar that was edgy, spare and unique in its own way.

Tatchell sang these with great confidence and skill, especially “O by the by” and “when faces called flowers float out of the ground”. The accompaniment by Nikulina was very well played. “Three Scots Ballads” also set to music by David Farquhar were a complete contrast to the EE Cummings songs and Tatchell and Nikulina gave excellent performances of these stirring and haunting songs. “Sings Harry”, with music by Douglas Lilburn based on poems by Denis Glover, is a work requiring strong character singing with reflective sections contrasting with moments of robust, almost swaggering delivery. Tatchell was able to show the full dimension of his fine voice and acting ability with these songs.

After interval, the focus was on works of the Russians, Mussorgsky and Tchaikovsky. Singing in Russian, Tatchell performed Mussorgsky’s “Songs and Dances of Death” with great expertise. His strong baritone voice was a perfect match for the Russian sound of this music. Nikulina played the accompaniment with great accuracy and feeling. The “Six Romances” of Tchaikovsky included three poems of Tolstoy and were highly emotional pieces sung with great clarity and warmth by Tatchell accompanied by beautiful, sensitive playing by Nikulina.

Len Power
Canberra Critics Circle, October 10, 2016

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A strong and contrasting sense of joy and sadness

Dynasty Of Song
Karen Fitz-Gibbon, soprano, and Alan Hicks, piano, for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 13 November, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

In a program that turned out to be a fascinating history lesson as well as an afternoon of glorious singing, Karen Fitz-Gibbon and Alan Hicks presented songs by Manuel del Popolo Garcia, two of his daughters and one of his grandchildren. Before singing a selection of their songs, Karen Fitzgibbon gave a detailed history of each of these family members who all had very active careers in the music and opera worlds as singers and composers in the 19th century. Karen Fitzgibbon is an engaging performer with a winning smile and a beautiful soprano voice. Her choice of songs was a good showcase for her. Of the songs by the patriarch of the family, Manuel Garcia, “Es corridor!” was delightfully sung with a humorous undertone and with “Je t’aimerai” and “L’Absence”, Fitzgibbon gave us a strong emotional and contrasting sense of the joy and sadness of love. “Parad!” had a haunting quality and was sweetly sung. They were all accompanied superbly by Alan Hicks.

Garcia’s daughter, Maria Malibran, was a famous opera singer in her day who composed songs as well. The high notes of “Il silfo” were sung thrillingly and apparently effortlessly by Fitzgibbon and she brought a chilling sadness to “La Visita della Morte”, a song that seemed to predict Maria Mallibran’s early death at 28. The songs of Maria Mallibran’s sister, Pauline Viardot-Garcia, gave Fitzgibbon the opportunity to cover a wide range of emotions. “Moriro” and “Cancion de la infanta” were sung with great feeling and the accompaniment by Alan Hicks of the latter song was especially fine.

The last part of the program showcased songs by Louise Heritte-Viardot, Pauline’s eldest child. Fitzgibbon gave a fine performance of “Sehnsuch”, bringing out a strong sense of yearning, the theme of the song. An encore of “Madrid” by Pauline Viardot-Garcia brought this memorable concert to a rousing close.

Len Power
Canberra Critics Circle, November 14, 2016

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2015 reviews

Lesser-known songs, ‘concentrated perfection’

“Yes, but do you know…?”
Sarahlouise Owens, Soprano and Colleen Rae-Gerrard, Piano, for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 22 March, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

WITH a title like “Yes, but do you know…?”, it was somewhat inevitable that in introducing the program, soprano Sarahlouise Owens should add the words, “well may you ask”. For in reality this diverting concert was conceived when Owens and the veteran pianist Colleen Rae-Gerrard got talking about works for voice and piano that were rarely heard. When they knew they could easily bring in Rae-Gerrard’s forte piano, affectionately nicknamed Constanze, (presumably after Mozart’s wife), the pair decided to try and approximate the sound originally sought by composers like Haydn and Mozart.

The concert began modestly with two evocative songs by Mozart, performed with some restraint by Owens. But she really got going in Haydn’s passionate cantata “Arianna a Naxos”, especially in the recitative and dramatic aria sections. Here it was clear that Owens is at her best expressing the stronger feelings of drama and opera. There followed two simple but beautiful songs by Canberra composer Calvin Bowman, the second of which, “The Early Morning,” was dedicated by Bowman to Rae-Gerrard’s late husband Michael Grafton- Green.

Both artists captured the unique mix of regret and optimism in three lieder by Erich Korngold, completing the first half of the concert with seven Moravians folk songs by Martinu described by Owens as “like jewels – concentrated perfection”. The second and more ambitious second half of this program began with a series of extrapolations from Goethe’s famous novel “Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship”, focusing on the tragic girl Mignon. The opening part of this segment consisted of Schubert’s ‘Mignon’ songs performed on Constanze and beginning with the celebrated song “Kennst du das Land” (Do you know the land?) Where the buck abducted girl expresses her wish to run away. Owens rose to the expressiveness of Schubert in the songs, which were succeeded by a lesser-known version of “Kennst du das Land” and concluding with a passionate rendition by Owens of French composer Henri du Parc’s “Romance de Mignon (Do you know the land).

The most intriguing part of the concert intellectually was the performance of three early songs by Benjamin Britten, which ranged from playful cheekiness to a brooding quality. Here the deceptive economy of Britten’s composition for the accompanist was beautifully captured by Rae-Gerrard. The final part of the recital saw an intense performance of Berlioz’s “Mort d’Ophelie”, inspired by Shakespeare, and two songs by Verdi’s mentor, Saverio Mercandate. In the final piece, unfamiliar to most, Owens took on the role of an insinuating Spanish fortune-teller, once again whipping up the performance to operatic heights.

Helen Musa
Canberra City News, March 24, 2015

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Life, love and longing

“Life, love and longing”
Rosanna Boyd and Ruth Crabb, Soprano, Chris McNee, Baritone, Colin Forbes, Piano, for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 28 June, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

Art Song Canberra provided a well-balanced program at Wesley Music Centre in Forrest in which three local singers, sopranos Rosanna Boyd and Ruth Crabb and baritone, Chris McNee, accompanied on piano by Colin Forbes, sang songs on the theme of ‘Life, Love and Longing’.

Rosanna Boyd’s set of songs ranged across the centuries from Mozart to Faure to Sondheim. The songs were good choices to display her fine young soprano voice and in the Sondheim theatre piece, ‘Green Finch and Linnet Bird’, she displayed her acting skills with a nice depth of character for the girl trapped in her life like a bird in a cage. The highlight of her set was the traditional Irish song, ‘She Moved Through The Fair’, to which she gave a sensitive, dreamlike quality.

Ruth Crabb sang her set confidently and with great technical skill. Her pleasing soprano was heard to excellent effect in ‘A Green Cornfield’ from Christina Rossetti’s poem with music by Michael Head. She also sang two pieces set to music by Calvin Bowman based on works by cartoonist, Michael Leunig, and delightfully brought out the sly humour in both of them. Two poems by Walter de la Mare, ‘Silver’ and ‘The Ride-by-Nights’, again with music by Calvin Bowman, rounded out her performance and her singing of ‘Silver’ was particularly pleasing.

Young baritone, Chris McNee, started his program with three pieces from Schubert’s, ‘Swan Song’. His choices displayed the full colour of his fine voice. It can be a trap to overdo the drama in ‘The Doppelganger’ but it was sung simply here and was very effective as a result. He also gave a pleasing performance of Beethoven’s song about the king and the flea from Goethe’s ‘Faust’. As well as displaying a fine voice, Chris McNee also showed great onstage confidence and humour when explaining his songs to the audience.

Piano accompanist, Colin Forbes, gave great support to all of the singers and it was, as always, a pleasure to hear him play. Art Song Canberra included after show drinks and a remarkably fine selection of home-made sandwiches and cakes for their audience. Helen Raymond’s fruit cake was so delicious it deserves an excellent review on its own!

This was a fine concert and a really nice way to spend a wintry afternoon listening to three of Canberra’s fine singers with an excellent program of music.

Len Power
Canberra Critics Circle, June 29, 2015

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A fleeting fantasy

“A fleeting fantasy”
Sonia Anfiloff, soprano, Ben Connor, baritone, and Alan Hicks, piano, for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 9 August, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

Artsong Canberra presented an impressive lineup of musical talent with their cleverly themed concert, ‘A Fleeting Fantasy’, at the Wesley Music Centre.

Husband and wife singers, Sonia Anfiloff and Ben Connor, with accompanist, Alan Hicks, gave us a richly varied group of songs around a theme of dreams, magic, mythical creatures and love. The young Australian singers, now living in Vienna, have an impressive list of credentials with Master degrees, Eisteddfod wins, scholarships and performing credits both in Australia and in Europe. Alan Hicks is one of Australia’s foremost vocal coaches and accompanists and currently Head of Vocal and Keyboard Performance at the University of Canberra and a vocal coach in the opera unit at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.

Sonia Anfiloff displayed her beautiful soprano voice in the reflective, melancholy works, ‘Dreams’ by Richard Wagner, ‘Sad Song’ by Henri Duparc, ‘Melancholy, gentle nymph’ by Vincenzo Bellini and ‘Was it not recently with magic sounds…’ by Nikolai Medtner. Ben Connor’s rich baritone was impressive from his first song, ‘Night And Dreams’, by Franz Schubert, through the tender ‘Mysticism’ by Pier Adolfo Tirindelli, the restrained emotion of ‘Fantasy’ by Gustav Mahler and the dramatic and chilling ‘Alder King’ by Franz Schubert. Their voices blended perfectly in the duets, ‘Night’, by Ernest Chausson and in their encore, ‘Stranger in Paradise’, from ‘Kismet’ by Borodin, Wright and Forrest. Alan Hicks’ sensitive and pleasing accompaniment on piano gave the singers great support throughout the concert.

Both singers demonstrated strong acting abilities in their performances as well as a good understanding of the texts of their songs. In a nicely judged and very funny audience participation sequence, the singers showed a gift for comedy with their down to earth and spontaneous interaction with the audience and with their accompanist, who matched them with a sly sense of humour.

This was a very entertaining concert with a pleasing set of songs sung superbly by these excellent Australian singers.

Len Power
Canberra Critics Circle, August 10, 2015

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Love and Harmony combine

“Love and Harmony combine”
Christina Wilson, mezzo-soprano, and Alan Hicks, piano, for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 18 October, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

Once again, Art Song Canberra produced a memorable afternoon of beautiful music with their concert, ‘Love And Harmony Combine’. The husband and wife team of Christina Wilson, mezzo-soprano, and Alan Hicks, piano, sang and played a fine selection of songs by Nigel Butterley, Robert and Clara Schumann, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Francis Poulenc and David Matthews.

After commencing with a joyous song by Nigel Butterley from his ‘Six Blake Songs’, Christina Wilson established an immediate rapport with the audience with her personable and interesting introduction to a selection of songs from Liebesfrühling (Love’s Spring) by Robert and Clara Schumann. This group of songs displayed the full range and colour of Christina Wilson’s voice. Her singing of ‘Er ist gekommen’ showed great control over a wide range of emotions. Ralph Vaughan Williams’ ‘Four Last Songs’ require fine acting as well as strong singing and Christina Wilson’s performance of these songs was the highlight of the concert. ‘Le Travail du Peintre’ by Francis Poulenc was given a thoughtful presentation with a video slideshow of works by the seven painters represented in the songs. Christina Wilson’s singing clearly brought out the subtle variation in the painters’ styles, as detailed by Poulenc’s music.

The final work was ‘The Book Of Hours’ by David Matthews comprising six poems by Rainer Maria Rilke with English versions by Babette Deutsch. It was musically very interesting but the meaning behind the text was hard to follow. It was, however, beautifully sung by Christina Wilson.

Accompanist Alan Hicks gave brilliant support throughout the concert to Christina Wilson with his sensitive playing. The selection of songs for this concert with a relationship theme gave the audience a wide range of music styles to listen to and enjoy. The beautiful voice of Christina Wilson, her relaxed and, at times, humorous interaction with the audience and the fine playing of Alan Hicks provided a very pleasant afternoon’s entertainment.

Len Power
Canberra Critics Circle, October 19, 2015

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Joy and emotion in Page recital

“Dance, Sing, Love, Live!”
Louise Page, soprano, and Pip Candy, piano, for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 23 November, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

WITH the theme of ‘Dance, Sing, Love, Live!’, you would expect a program of great variety and that’s just what Canberra soprano, Louise Page, gave us in Artsong Canberra’s latest Sunday afternoon concert. Ranging from Canteloube to Delibes, Mahler, Berlioz and others, the chosen songs gave Louise Page every opportunity to show the full range and colour of her voice.

Whether singing joyously or with strong emotion, Louise Page gives full weight to the intent of a song as well as singing every note with great clarity and precision. The intense emotion of the opening number, ‘Song Of Happiness’ by Berlioz was perfectly captured and the well-known ‘Bolero’ from ‘Songs Of the Auvergne’ was sung with great feeling. By contrast, Delibes’ ‘The Girls Of Cadiz’ was delightfully humorous. The rapture displayed at the end of the Strauss song ‘Secret Invitation’ was especially moving as was her singing of a second highly emotional Strauss song, ‘A Dedication’. The highlight of the concert was the presentation of songs by Australia’s Calvin Bowman, especially her delicate singing of the haunting, ‘Words By The Water’.
For an encore, Louise Page delighted us with a flirtatious and sexy ‘My Kisses Are So Hot’ (with real kisses for some lucky audience members) from Franz Lehar’s ‘Giuditta’.

The accompaniment on piano by Phillipa Candy was excellent and there was sublime additional accompaniment by Caitlin McAnulty on oboe and Rachel Best-Allen on clarinet in the selections from ‘ Songs of the Auvergne’.

Once again Art Song Canberra provided a perfect afternoon’s musical entertainment.

Len Power
Canberra City News, November 23, 2015

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2014 reviews

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2013 reviews

An engagingly British Affair

A Philosophical Folk
Rohan Thatcher, Baritone and Stephanie Giesajtis, Piano – Art Song Canberra
Sunday, June 2, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre.

In National Music (1934), Ralph Vaughan Williams wrote that ”The art of music above all the other arts is the expression of the soul of a nation”.

The repertoire for Art Song Canberra’s concert A Philosophical Folk provided an exploration of the English national soul from the last years of the 19th century until the early 20th century. Selecting a comprehensive program of songs written by George Butterworth, Vaughan Williams and Gerald Finzi, Rohan Thatcher demonstrated that the English vocal music of this era explores compositional directions in form and tonality that belie the derogatory label often applied to Vaughan Williams and his peers of ”cowpat composers”.

I was struck by the fine craftsmanship of the correspondence between the piano accompaniment and the vocal line, and once again Vaughan Williams provides insight to the process at work with his comment, ”The duty of the words is to say just as much as the music has left unsaid and no more.” For each of the featured composers, matching the sentiments of their chosen poets to their particular aesthetic was critical to the success of their vocal settings. Stephanie Giesajtis’s superb accompaniment and Thatcher’s responsive interpretation of the settings brought this lost world back to life.

A collector of English folksongs, and active member of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, Butterworth shared his passion for preserving and reinterpreting English folk music with Vaughan Williams. Butterworth’s song-settings of A.E. Houseman’s poems are poignant with a longing for love and the deep peace of a countryside he was doomed never to return to from the battlefield of the Somme. Thatcher evoked this sadness with sensitive performances, particularly of Bredon Hill and With Rue My Heart is Laden.

Robert Louis Stevenson’s poems provided more extroverted tales of the adventurer set to music by Vaughan Williams in songs such as The Vagabond and Bright is the Ring of Words. A rippling accompaniment to Let Beauty Awake contrasted well with the cross rhythms of Youth and Love. Thatcher’s enunciation is consistently clear – a joy when every word of the text carries delicate nuances.

Finzi’s settings of Thomas Hardy’s poems from the Earth and Air and Rain cycle were heard in the second half of the concert. Never far from the surface of these songs is a strong sense of the fragility of life and the transience of happiness, the impermanence of all things is reflected in the fragmenting tonality, which needled the sweeping vocal line.

A Philosophical Folk gave the audience a privileged insight into the musical connections between three great English composers, through their music for baritone and piano.

Jennifer Gall
The Canberra Times, Tuesday June 4, 2013.

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Easy lieder with a century in mind

“Centenary in Song”Art Song Canberra
At Wesley Music Centre, Forrest, February 24.

SOME might think a lieder recital is a snooty, high-brow affair, but this concert by mezzo, Christina Wilson; pianist, Alan Hicks; and violist, Robert Harris was a thoughtful program of very accessible music.
In a loose connection to Canberra’s beginnings, the first half featured diverse European and American compositions written in 1913. The second half featured Australian works, drawn from across Canberra’s centenary, some specifically for or about Canberra.
Larry Sitsky’s “Seven Zen Songs”, featuring Chinese poetry, was a highlight. The accompaniment, just on the viola, was very contextual to the words – even humorous at times – if abstract to the song melodies. Wilson performed them flawlessly.
Hicks’ accompaniment showed marvellous empathy for Wilson’s expression, vocal range and control, but he really shone when he played two preludes by Debussy. The second was reminiscent of the composer’s more famous piece “Golliwog’s Cakewalk”, with weird rhythms, frequent mood swings and strange harmonies. Hicks captured them all with ease and flare.
Concluding this very enjoyable concert was a moving performance of Peter J Casey’s “Beautiful”. The song’s many emotions were inspired by the horror of the 2003 Canberra bushfires. It was something of an epitaph to the four who lost their lives, and who are named in the lyrics.
The attentive, appreciative audience was rewarded with an encore; Bernstein’s “Dream with Me” from his musical “Peter Pan”, perhaps as a call to dream of Canberra’s next century.

Clinton White
Canberra City News, Sunday February 24, 2013.

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2012 reviews

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2011 reviews

Candy’s piano brings spice into a night of entertaining music

Tales from a Gypsy Caravan
Sally-Anne Russell, Mezzo Soprano and Phillipa Candy, Piano – Art Song Canberra
Wesley Music Centre, March 20.

Sally-Anne Russell and Phillipa Candy presented a concert program of works intended to create an exotic atmosphere with music collected from itinerate musicians and translated into art song. I’m not sure that the title of Tales from a Gypsy Caravan was a particularly accurate description of the repertoire, but the selection of music was entertaining and eclectic. Candy’s strong, energetic piano accompaniment complemented Russell’s operatic voice. I thoroughly enjoyed the tonal colours Candy produced in her playing, and her distinctive approach to the demands of each different composer. Her performances of the two Brahms Intermezzi provided two of the afternoon’s highlights, particularly the version of Op.119 No1 in B minor – a mysterious and beautiful piece.
Russell demonstrated her versatility performing Dvorak’s Seven Gypsy Songs, Aaron Copland’s Old American Folk Songs, Josquin Turina’s Poema en forma de canciones and selected works by Brahms. While she possesses an impressively powerful voice, I think her performance would have been enhanced by a more considered delivery, adapting her vocal projection to the size of the small auditorium. The lyrics of the Seven Gypsy Songs are fascinating, each one a microcosm of daily life, superstitions, passions and family relationships reproduced in words and music. Dvorak wrote about himself, “I am what I am – a plain bohemian musician” and he maintained a deep devotion to the natural world, intending that this connection would inform his compositions, and the joyful harmonies in these songs reflects his connection between music and the life of the land.
I enjoyed the selection of Brahms lieder and the five songs by Turina were a refreshing change of pace and mood. Copland’s American Folk Songs were a light-hearted finale for the concert, finishing with the humorous I Bought Me a Cat. The partnership between the musicians worked well in these pieces, and Candy brought real spice to her accompaniment.

Jennifer Gall
The Canberra Times, Tuesday March 22, 2011.

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Clever performance of depth

Joie de Vivre
Greta Bradman, soprano, and Leigh Harrold, piano; Art Song Canberra at Wesley Music Centre, National Circuit, Forrest.

Greta Bradman has a golden voice and intelligent approach to her performance that is remarkable in such a young singer. Her astute assessment of the potential of the Wesley Music Centre acoustic enabled her to craft her performance to use the space to best advantage adjusting the projection of her voice. Bradman gave the audience every assurance that she sings with total ease and her relaxed manner and lack of contrived emotion created an underlying mood of serenity throughout the afternoon. If I have one quibble it would be to note a tendency to slightly overemphasise the contrast between forte and pianissimo in dynamics which constrained the opportunities for prolonged passages sung at a volume in between these extremes.
First on the program were Ravel’s Cinq mélodies populaires grecques, a choice of repertoire that provided the perfect showcase for Bradman’s liquid ornamentation and sensitive approach to the narrative line of each song.
Selections from Charles Ives’ Book of 114 Songs provided a clever transition into the later era of art song by including repertoire spanning the composers early and mid-career output. Bradman adroitly altered her accent and delivery to embrace the various moods of the material she had selected, eliciting mirth and sympathy from the audience.
Harrold’s piano supported Bradman’s voice well with the exception of his accompaniment for The Housatonic at Stockbridge which overpowered her singing and caused a tricky moment with rhythmic co-ordination. Balance was restored with the contemplative performance of Robert Beaser’s Old Men Admiring Themselves in the Water.
I cannot hear Emily Dickinson’s name now without recalling the irreverent truth told me by another musician that all her poems can be sung to the melody of The Yellow Rose of Texas. Bradman, however, was able to transcend this banality and demonstrate the purity of her voice in its higher register.
In the third song, Harrold took the opportunity to emphasise the delicate piano details, adding magic to his accompaniment.
For me the concert highlights came in the Trois Chansons de Bilitis by Claude Debussy. The focus with which the musicians approached these songs created a musical intensity that captured the audience completely. This was a mature emotional and intellectual performance that unlocked the deep beauty of these songs. It may sound perverse, but I am not a great fan of Barber’s Hermit’s Songs (Op.29) as the complexity of the settings seems at odds with the simplicity and wit of the texts. That said, Bradman and Harrold brought a distinctive freshness and sincerity to this series of 10 songs.
A selection of lullabies formed the last bracket, concluding with George Gershwin’s wonderful Summertime.
Most memorable was Goddard’s Berceuse de Jocelyn, an interpretation by Bradman combining the piano accompaniment from Casals’ cello version with the tenor solo version transposed for her own voice that renewed this familiar, lovely piece.

Jennifer Gall
The Canberra Times, Tuesday March 1, 2011.

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2010 reviews

Elegant and outrageous in a classy concert

Don’t Forget Your Lippy! Art Song Canberra. Susan Ellis and Sarahlouise Owens, Sopranos and Jee Youn Lee, Piano. Sunday, October 17, Wesley Music Centre.

“Those Girls”, as the three musicians were billed, performed a smooth and varied program that encompassed repertoire spanning four centuries. They clearly enjoyed themselves and entertained the capacity audience enormously.
Opening the concert were two duets by George Frideric Handel, arranged by Brahms: Quel fior ch’all alba ride and Ahi, nella sortie umane. Ellis and Owens’s voices blended well, the balance was good and the harmonies produced some spine-tingling suspensions.
Deutscher Volkslieder WoO33 by Johannes Brahms was an impressive solo performance by Susan Ellis. I particularly enjoyed the warmth of tone in Da untem im Tale, and the complexity of the melody in In Stiller Nacht. Lee’s interpretation of Schubert’s Impromptu Op. 90 No 2 provided a striking contrast to the songs she accompanied so effectively throughout the rest of the performance and showcased her distinctive touch and particular approach to rubato in this piece.
The first hint of the ensemble’s penchant for theatrical excess came in the highly entertaining delivery of Walpurgisnacht. Owens produced an alarmingly good transformation from concerned mother to broom-riding witch in the course of the song and the two singers’ conversational interplay complemented each other beautifully. Particularly pleasing were the selection of Franz Schreker songs sung by Owens, especially Frühling and the powerful performance of Lenzzauber.
Songs from the Movies followed after the interval and at the risk of being a spoilsport, I think that these numbers would have worked better without the theatrical script linking them. The costume changes were fun and would have conveyed the essence of the bracket without the need to link the songs with a narrative that sounded a little too contrived. The rapport between the women was sufficiently strong to sustain the connection between the subjects in each of the songs and to engage and amuse the audience without superfluous conversations.
The final number certainly completed the afternoon’s musical journey from the elegant Handel duets to the outrageous song Two Women Doing It written especially for the ensemble by Peter Casey. Classy as their classical turns and trills were, I suspect that the call of cabaret may yet lure “Those Girls” into future vocal mischief to delight other audiences.

Jennifer Gall
The Canberra Times, Tuesday October 19, 2010.

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Elegant and balanced program from accomplished musicians

Go to program

A Taste of Honey: Christina Wilson, mezzo-soprano; Robert Harris, viola and Alan Hicks, piano. Art Song Canberra, Wesley Music Centre, March 21.

This elegant concert brought together three supremely accomplished musicians to play a balanced program of music well-suited to the Indian summer afternoon. A good crowd attended the concert indicating continued firm support for art song in Canberra. The combination of viola, piano and mezzo-soprano voices was a welcome change from more conventional ensembles. Robert Harris draws a unique blend of delicacy and sonority from the viola.

I felt that the segments that demonstrated the strengths of the ensemble to best advantage were the Three Songs for Voice, Viola and Piano by Frank Bridge and Terence Greaves; and A Garden of Weeds – settings of texts by Jacqueline Froom. The musical writing in these works skilfully created space between the three voices represented by the ensemble members. The sinuous detail in the viola part complemented the melodic line of the voice so that although they operated in a similar range, each part enhanced the musical ideas expressed by the other without clouding the sounds in the lower register. While the title of Garden of Weeds suggests flippant musical content, this was not the case.

Wilson cleverly characterised each of the plants in her vocal delivery bringing each weed personality to life and drawing an enthusiastic response from the audience. Her technical mastery came to the fore in the contrasts she was able to depict. Her smoulderingly sensuous portrait of Poppy was dispelled by the amusingly belligerent Thistle supported by mellifluous viola and insinuating piano. Hicks and Harris created some special magic with their interaction in these pieces as the accompaniment has some really intriguing jousting tonalities.

While I thought there was some awkwardness in Tregaskis’s arrangements of the two Keats poems, Bridge’s Three Songs -settings of texts by three different poets – provided beautiful vocal lines for Wilson and viola and piano parts that shone in the hands of these musicians. Alan Hicks’s accompanying style is unerringly empathetic, working with the strengths of his fellow musicians to colour and enhance the musical conversations.

There were some lovely moments in the Eight Gypsy Songs by Brahms. In the Five Negro Spirituals by Arthur Benjamin, Harris and Hicks demonstrated that instruments can sing with almost recognisable words. I look forward to hearing further collaborations of this satisfying musical partnership as they explore new repertoire.

Jennifer Gall
The Canberra Times, Tuesday March 23, 2010.

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2009 reviews

Passion and presence aplenty throughout recital

The Passionate Countertenor – Tobias Cole and Andrew Greene, Wesley Music Centre, September 6

Countertenors have a tendency to develop something of a cult following. As audiences have grown increasingly attuned to the efforts of the early music movement, singers such as Andreas Scholl and Philippe Jaroussky have come to rank among the superstars of the classical music world. Until recently, however, the solo countertenor repertoire seldom strayed beyond the admittedly rich territory of the baroque operatic tradition, with the odd foray into the 20th century.

Last Sunday’s Art Song Canberra recital by countertenor Tobias Cole and pianist Andrew Greene went well beyond these confines to explore a range of styles from Purcell via Schubert to Britten and Cole Porter. With “The Passionate Countertenor” as his theme, Cole crafted a broad but thoughtful program exploring the delights and sorrows of love in all its forms. In doing so, he demonstrated that the unique expressive powers of the countertenor voice have a valuable role to play in elucidating the more unexpected corners of the art song catalogue. Passion there was aplenty, despite the somewhat prosaic surroundings of the Wesley Music Centre.

The concert’s first half began with a short but well-chosen selection of lieder from the happier moments of Schubert’s tragic song cycle, Die schöne Mullerin. Seven songs from Schumann’s Dichterliebe followed, together forming one of the highlights of the performance. If Cole’s tone occasionally lost some of its colour in the higher passages, this was amply compensated for by the subtlety and focus of the singing throughout, particularly in the beautiful Wenn ich in deine Augen seh. Dvorak’s seldom-heard Zigeunermelodien (Gypsy Songs) concluded the half with a satisfying blend of swagger and melancholy.

The second half returned to more familiar territory, with songs by Purcell, Britten and Gluck all admirably handled. The performance of Handel’s Dall’ondoso periglio was especially moving, with Cole exhibiting a commendable combination of tenderness and restraint. Cole’s decision to close the show with Cole Porter’s So in Love was either deliciously camp or disconcertingly odd – I have yet to decide which. Throughout the recital, Cole maintained an engaging stage presence, suffusing each piece with a well-calibrated emotional expressiveness. Andrew Greene provided sensitive and fluent accompaniment, succeeding deftly in the difficult double role of soloist and supporter required by the program. The strong rapport between the pair was clear. Judging by the audience response, Cole might find himself with a cult following of his own.

Daniel Sanderson
The Canberra Times, Tuesday September 8, 2009.

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Passion and satire in song recital

From Stage to Salon (A Recital of Solo Songs by Operatic Composers)
Presented by Rebecca Collins (soprano) and Vivienne Winther (piano) for Art Song Canberra. Wesley Music Centre, March 15.

Art Song Canberra launched its 2009 Season of Song last Sunday afternoon with an exceedingly attractive and highly rewarding recital by two fine Canberra musicians. Rebecca Collins brought to the program her operatic and concert experience both in Australia and in Europe, while the perceptively expressive piano accompaniments provided by Vivienne Winther were constantly supportive of the singer.

It was also a particularly interesting program they presented, consisting of rarely heard solo songs by eight composers – five Italian and three French – all better-known for their operas than for their solo songs. From the be! canto era there were five gently melodic love songs by Bellini and Donizetti which made a charmingly ingratiating start to the recital. For contrast, these were followed by two songs by Verdi of a somewhat darker mood of sadness and regret, this realised in performances that beautifully captured and conveyed that underlying feeling.

This first half of Italian songs concluded with two further love songs, now by Rossini. However, their lyrics were rather more satirical, and this change of mood was also delightfully conveyed by both singer and pianist.

The second half of the program was particularly French, starting with an alluring Serenade by Charles Gounod to a verse by Victor Hugo. Hugo also provided verses for the item that followed, a song of regrets by Georges Bizet titled Adieux de I’hotesse arabe. This is music of passion and stronger expression than most of the program, and it received a suitably powerful projection in which the dramatic strength of Collins’ singing was impressively displayed, making this the high point of the recital.

Three songs by Jules Massenet made an attractively lyrical close to the French section of the program, which was then rounded off with a group of Puccini salon songs. These are so very typical of the composer in their melodic shaping, and where special interest comes with the shades of his operatic arias which constantly float across the music. This was indeed a recital to delight any connoisseur of song.

W.L. Hoffmann
The Canberra Times, Thursday March 19, 2009.

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2008 reviews

A superb season

Reflections – Art Song Canberra
Michael Martin (tenor), Rowan Harvey-Martin (violin) and Narelle French (piano). Wesley Music Centre. November 30.

Canberra-born tenor Michael Martin gave a recital for Art Song Canberra last Sunday afternoon, in which the program reflected a successful career he has followed over recent years on operatic stages around Australia. It was a wide-ranging program in which he was supported by guest artists such as his wife, violinist Rowan Harvey-Martin, who is currently principal violin with the Canberra Symphony Orchestra, and pianist Narelle French, the head of music with Queensland Opera.

His opening bracket of songs included two excerpts from one of his notable operatic roles, that of Peter Qint in Benjamin Britten’s The Turn of the Screw, first the prologue and then Quint’s dramatic entry in scene eight. The second group of opera excerpts went back to other roles with arias from Rossini’s Barber of Seville and Gounod’s Romeo and Juliet.

Then there was a distinct change of mood with three examples of German lied, sung with fine understanding of their special characteristics and which included a finely-shaped and expressive realisation of Beethoven’s lovely song Adelaide, which was one of the highlights of the program.

Also worthy of special mention was the group of three songs by the English composer Roger Quilter, which made an auspicious start to the second half of the program. I have long had a special affection for this composer’s songs, which are some of the finest in the English language, and they were very welcome in warmly lyrical performances.

For the final vocal group, the program moved across to Italy with typically lilting songs by such composers as De Curtis and Tosti. And during each half of the program Harvey-Martin contributed attractive violin solo interludes, in the first half a Romance No 2 by Stenhammar, and in the second half the Romanza Andaluza by Pablo de Sarasate. And in addition to the excellent accompaniments that French provided throughout the concert, she also contributed a solo piano item, a sparkling operatic pot-pouri.

In both programming and performances, this was a delightful concert with which Art Song Canberra completed its fine “Season of Song 2008”.

W.L. Hoffmann
The Canberra Times, Thursday December 4, 2008.

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German feast fully satisfies

A Feast of German Song
An Art Song Canberra presentation. Wesley Music Centre, September 14.

Beethoven was an artistic genius who illuminated every musical form he approached, including the German lied. His song cycle An die ferne Geliebte, Op 98 (To the distant beloved) was a pioneer work in this form, and its beauty and power of expression was fully displayed when it was the centrepiece of the program presented by Art Song Canberra in Wesley Music Centre last Sunday afternoon.

On this occasion it received an exceedingly fine vocal and expressive realisation from visiting Austrian baritone Thomas Weinhappel and his accompanist, Sydney pianist Stephen Delaney.

It was a suitably positive approach from both artists, and throughout their performance the expressive details of this lovely work were touched in with confidence and beauty.

From the haunting initial song Auf dem Hugel sitz’ ich (I sit on the lonely hill-top), to its thematic return as the postlude to the cycle, it was a performance from the singer that had an engaging freshness and ardour.

Supported by the pianist’s keenly imaginative playing of Beethovan’s distinctive accompaniments, it was a performance to savour.

To start the program, there had been a bracket of five fine Schubert songs, opening with the charming Liebesbotschaft (Love’s Message) in which the voice displayed some dryness of tone.

But this was only an initial impression, and had disappeared by the Beethoven song cycle.

Following that there was a delightful Schumann group. The gems of that group were the lyrical Meine Rose and, in distinct contrast, the boisterous Der Contrabandiste (The Smuggler) which gave the singer the opportunity for a lively characterisation.

The fourth and final group of this excellently balanced and throughfully assembled program was devoted to the music of Richard Strauss.

First there was his Allerseelen (All Souls’ Day), surely one of the loveliest songs ever written, and receiving a performance that had a haunting beauty.

And the concert concluded with the ecstatic love song Cacille, given a suitably passionate realisation to make a stirring finish to the program.

It was indeed a recital which had lived up to its promise of being a feast of German song.

W.L. Hoffmann
The Canberra Times, Wednesday September 17, 2008.

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European delights

Mediterranean Magic
Canberra Artsong recital by Christina Wilson (mezzo) and Alan Hicks (piano).
Wesley Music Centre, Forrest, July 27.

It was a highly attractive program of songs, mainly drawn from European countries of the Mediterranean region, that these two notable Canberra artists selected to present at this fourth concert of Canberra ArtSong’s 2008 Season of Songs.

The first group of songs were from Spain, and here the warmly expressive but also somewhat dark tonal quality of Christina Wilson’s mezzo-soprano voice suitably matched the passionate mood of these songs.

Two contrasting love songs by Enrique Granados — El majo discrete and el majo timido — were balanced by a powerful vocal realisation of De Falla’s dramatic Olas gigantes (Gigantic Waves) in which the singer was strongly supported by pianist Alan Hicks. Indeed, his accompaniments were exemplary throughout the recital.

The Spanish section then concluded with three songs from the Canciones clasicas espanolas by Fernando Obradors.

From sunny Italy came a group of three Neopolitan songs, including the well-known Torno a Surriento (Return to Sorrento) and Leocavallo’s lyrical Mattinata (Morning).

Greece was not unsuitably represented by Ravel’s Cinq Melodies Populaires Grecques (Five Popular Greek Melodies) realised in performances that were beautifully shaped and idiomatic.

Less associated with the Mediterranean were two examples of German lied, settings by Schubert and Wolf of Mignon songs from Goethes Wilhelm Meister.

But who could quibble when these lovely songs — Nun wer die Sehnsucht kennt (Only those who know yearning) and Kennst du das Land (Do you know the Land) — were so appealingly sung and with such warm expression.

Then this constantly delightful recital concluded on a light and amusing note with songs with Spanish and Italian overtones by two British composers.

First there was the three-movement History of the dansant by Richard Rodney Bennett, and finally Noel Coward’s comic gem, A bar on the piccolo marina, which was sung for all its comic potential to send the audience away with a smile.

W.L. Hoffmann
The Canberra Times, Wednesday July 30, 2008.

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Joy and sorrow in moving moods

Mother and Child
A recital by Louise Page (soprano) and Phillipa Candy (piano).
Art Song Canberra. Wesley Music Centre, June 22.

Over the years this Canberra duo has presented many fine vocal recitals notable for innovative programs presented in immaculate performances, and once again this was so at this Art Song Canberra recital soprano Louise Page and pianist Phillipa Candy presented last Sunday afternoon.

It was a recital that expressed in song both the joy and the sorrow of motherhood, drawn from a wide variety of musical styles and a broad range of composers.

The program began with a work titled The Mystery (Five Songs of Motherhood) by contemporary composer Carlisle Floyd, a setting of poems in which the mother reminisces of firstly her anticipation and then the birth of her child, this realised in a performance that was beautifully expressive. And it led naturally to a group of five contrasting cradle songs by German, English and American composers, including the well-known Wiegenlied of Brahms and the lullaby Summertime from Gershwin’s opera Porgy and Bess, and including a very beautiful Cradle Song that I had not heard before by English composer Arnold Bax.

However, the peak of the program was reached with a moving interpretative realisation of the song-cycle Kindertotenlieder (Songs on the Death of Children) by Gustav Mahler. Originally an orchestral song-cycle, some of the warmth of the glowing orchestral sound supporting the voice is lost in its reduction to a piano accompaniment. However, so committed and beautifully shaped was the performance from both singer and pianist that the music still achieved its feeling of intimate expressiveness.

After this moving performance, the mood lightened for the remainder of the program, with three children’s songs starting with the humorous I don’t like beeties by Australian composer Roy Agnew.

Page has a voice of notable beauty which is underlined by the expressive understanding she brings to everything she sings, even in a program as diverse as this. The long partnership she has had with Candy as her accompanist makes every program they present together a sheer musical delight.

W.L. Hoffmann
The Canberra Times, Wednesday June 25, 2008.

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Lyrical delights

Vive la France!
An ArtSong Canberra recital. Wesley Music Centre, Sunday, May 25.

The second program in Art-Song Canberra’s 2008 Season of Song saw the return of the vocal and piano duo, Adelaide soprano Rosalind Martin and Scottish-born pianist Roy Howat. Again it was a recital of vocal and piano delights with a program principally devoted to a well-balanced grouping of French art songs. It could not have started better than with Faure’s Apres un reve (After a dream), a lovely song that exhibits all the lyrical features that make the best of French art songs so special. It was given a performance that was not only warm in expression but also gave promise of the lyrical delights to follow. This opening group of six Faure songs included such gems as Clair de lune (Moonlight) and En sourdine (Muted) in which the artists beautifully conveyed the hushed beauty of the musical setting.

Faure was a vital influence on French composers at the turn of the 20th century, and this is apparent in the delightful Chansons de Bilitis of the young Debussy which followed. Again the performances were excellently shaped and entirely idiomatic. The remainder of the program consisted of further Debussy settings, his Fetes galantes, and two highly distinctive groups of songs written by the lesser known composer of the period, Emmanuel Chabrier. The Ballad of plump turkeys introduced his amusing Four Barnyard Songs, which received appropriately lively and humorous treatment. They brought a lighter mood to this constantly attractive recital, which then concluded with Chabrier’s delightful little love song Tes yeux bleus (Your blue eyes).

Roy Howat provided immaculate accompaniments as well as two piano solo interludes. My only reservation was the inclusion of a bracket of German lieder by Hugo Wolf. They were lovely songs, excellently sung; but given the title of the recital this seemed quite odd. Why not a group of Duparc songs to maintain the French feeling?

W.L. Hoffmann
The Canberra Times, Wednesday May 28, 2008.

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Fine start to singing season with warmth and joy

From the Sublime to the Ridiculous
An ArtSong Canberra recital by mezzo-soprano Sally-Anne Russell. Wesley Music Centre, Forrest March 9.

This attractively fashioned and constantly entertaining recital last Sunday afternoon by one of Australia’s most distinguished operatic and concert singers, Sally-Anne Russell, made a fine start to ArtSong Canberra’s 2008 Season of Song.

Every item on this wide-ranging program was a delight.

The warm tonal qualities of the singer’s fine mezzo voice was enhanced by the musicality and interpretative understanding she brought to the varying stylistic and expressive demands of each group of songs presented, whether from the 17th, 18th, 19th or 20th centuries. It opened with beautifully shaped performances of four songs by Henry Purcell, these quiet vocal gems leading naturally into an equally attractive group of five delightful examples drawn from Mozart’s quite extensive writing for solo voice.

These songs, with their gently satiric texts, were realised in singing that quietly but pointedly underlined their expressive mood, and led directly into a group of notable examples of the German lied from Schubert.

Here Russell’s considerable operatic experience came to the fore, particularly in a highly dramatic presentation of the song Der Zwerg (The dwarf).

A rather unusual, though very welcome, inclusion in her program was Haydn’s solo cantata Arianna a Naxos which, with its double alternating recitative and aria, and its mood of anger and despair, makes special expressive demands on both singer and accompanist.

It was realised with passion and consummate artistry by Russell and her accompanist for this recital, the very fine Canberra pianist, Phillipa Candy.

From this “sublime” section the program proceeded with the “ridiculous” (though still very attractive) with a lively performance of the colourful Seven Popular Spanish Songs of Manuel de Falla.

Finally there were four highly amusing Cabaret Songs by Benjamin Britten to words by the poet W. H. Auden — fun pieces that brought this thoroughly entrancing recital to a bright conclusion.

W.L. Hoffmann
The Canberra Times, Wednesday March 12, 2008.

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2007 reviews

Top ten concerts hit all the high notes

My top 10 music performances in Canberra during 2007 would include Richard Tognetti with the Australian Chamber Orchestra. The performance of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto early in the year that was glowingly expressive, with playing of notable beauty of tone from both soloist and orchestra. Paul Jacobs, visiting organist from the United States, played a solo recital on the organ at Wesley Uniting Church which was stunning in its sheer virtuosity while also offering rich musical rewards.

Former Canberra tenor Kent Mclntosh, with pianist Andrew Greene, gave a recital for Artsong Canberra titled Romance in Song that displayed lieder singing of a high quality, constantly pleasing in its interpretative understanding. Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute, performed by former and current students from the ANU School of Music vocal department, professionally directed and conducted, was continually enjoyable, highlighted by some notable individual performances.

Cellist David Pereira and pianist Marcela Fiorillo in a duo-recital was the concert of the year, with superb performances in a program that was widely varied in style and content and was a total delight. Selby and Friends — Chinese–Australian cellist Li-Wei and pianist Kathryn Selby — was a memorable duo-recital distinguished by performances combining arresting vitality and great musicality. Marcela Fiorillo performed a notable solo piano recital in which the program was devoted to three of Beethoven’s greatest and most demanding piano sonatas, these confidently realised in playing that beautifully matched power of delivery with beauty of expression.

The Canberra Symphony Orchestra played a program From Russia with Love, conducted by its new music director Nicholas Milton, which ended with a brilliantly shaped, powerfully realised and constantly exciting performance of Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony.

The Brentano String Quartet from the US presented an evening of highly distinguished chamber music at a Musica Viva concert in which the playing was both elegant and passionate, and completely satisfying.

The Oriana Chorale, conducted by former Canberran Tobias Cole, provided a concert of superior unaccompanied choral singing, titled An Australian Summer, which most effectively matched music by Australian composers with readings of poems by Australian poets.

W. L. Hoffmann
Canberra Times, Tuesday January 1, 2008.

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French flavours resound in harmonious notes

Voyage à Paris
Karen Cummings and Didier Frédéric with Alan Hicks. Wesley Music Centre, November 18.

This was a diverse and interesting concert of French songs by Australian soprano Karen Cummings and French baritone Didier Frederic accompanied by pianist Alan Hicks. The first half of the concert was of French art songs by Debussy, Ravel and Poulenc, with the second half more cabaret and popular songs from the 20th century, with composers as varied as Kurt Weill and Edith Piaf.

The two singers alternated on stage, except for a couple of duets in the second half. The concert opened with three songs by Debussy set to subtly erotic texts by Pierre Louys and sung charmingly by Cummings. These were followed by three songs by Ravel, sung by Frederic. The various songs by Poulenc which followed were shared between the singers, and they finished the first half with Cummings singing Les Chemins de l’Amour, which was almost a pop song with a catchy waltz tune, which cleverly led into the more popular material of the second half of the concert.

The second half was a shift in musical styles to a mix of more theatrical songs, the first suite of songs being the highlight of the concert. They were written by Kurt Weill while living briefly in Paris after leaving Germany in the early 1930s. These were written for a dance performance and the first song Youkali was sung as a duet to a distinct tango rhythm. Cummings and Frederic each did another solo, including Complainte de la Seine, and eerie songs about the debris, including bodies at the bottom of the river.

The rest of the songs were from the French cabaret and popular song tradition such as La Mer and La Vie en Rose with which they closed the concert, sung rather charmingly as a duet. Both sang delightfully throughout the concert, and Hicks was supportive throughout — present but not dominating.

A little more background information on the songs, either in the program booklet or spoken would have been welcome, and Frederic, in white tie and tails, was perhaps a little overdressed for a Sunday afternoon, but maybe that is the way they do it in France.

In any case, a singer that good can wear anything he wants.

Graham McDonald
Canberra Times, Wednesday November 21, 2007.

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Songs of radiant warmth

Romance in Song
An ArtSong Canberra recital by tenor Kent Mclntosh and pianist Andrew Greene. Wesley Music Centre, October 7.

This recital offered a program that was neatly divided into three sections — German lied, French chanson and British art song — and attractively displayed these three important elements of classical song for solo voice and piano.

Kent Mclntosh, who graduated from the Canberra School of Music in 2001 and is now singing full-time with Opera Australia, provided highly musical performances of the works in this wide-ranging program, and received strong support from accompanist, pianist/conductor Andrew Greene, who is currently director of the Young Artists Program for Opera Australia.

The concert opened with a fine performance of Schumann’s Dichterliebe (Poet’s Love), a marvellous setting of 16 poems by the German poet Heinrich Heine, and one of the finest example of the song-cycle for voice and piano in the German repertoire.

The French group included Faure’s lovely Apres un reve (After a dream), its radiant ending effectively encompassed, while a warmly realised performance of Saint-Saens’ Aimons-nous et dormons (Let us love and sleep) with its erotic undertones was an unexpected vocal pleasure.

Finally, the British group brought the second song-cycle of the program, Benjamin Britten’s early On this Island, precocious settings of five poems by the composer’s friend W. H. Auden.

The gently satiric tone of the poems are captured in Britten’s settings which make considerable musical demands on the interpreters.

Happily, both rose to the occasion, and this performance was a light delight. This continually entertaining recital then concluded with two of Britten’s English folk-tune settings, Foggy, foggy dew and Oliver Cromwell.

W. L. Hoffmann
Canberra Times, Wednesday October 10, 2007.

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Theatrical approach to songs about women on edge

Catriona DeVere and Alan Hicks
Wesley Music Centre. September 11.

Soprano Catriona DeVere and pianist Alan Hicks have put together a thought-provoking program of songs on the rather daunting theme of “Women on the Edge”.

The women at the centre of each song are in the middle of emotional upheaval, be it Little Red Riding Hood’s suspicions about the wolf or a woman battling faceless bureaucracy in Magda’s Aria from Gian Carlo Menotti’s The Consul.

This fairly lengthy aria was the highlight and the audience could feel Magda’s passion and frustration in trying to save herself and her family by confronting the bureaucrat. Maybe it’s just a Canberra thing.

In between Little Red Riding Hood, from Stephen Sondheim’s collection of reworked fairytales Into the Woods, and Magda were a diverse mix of women.

From Broadway was Aldonza from Man of La Mancha, which opened the concert, with DeVere briefly striking a Spanish whore pose before launching into the song. This touch of theatricality set the tone. There was some acting where appropriate, without distracting from the music itself. The program included five opera arias, by Gershwin, Mozart, Britten, Menotti and Pucinni. My Man’s Gone Now from Porgy and Bess was notable in that I could hardly understand a word, yet was most impressed by the two seemingly effortless octave-spanning glissandi from DeVere.

Initial impressions are that it is not a big voice, yet the dynamics were there and she filled the room with sound so all-encompassing you could almost feel it. The pitch was consistently accurate.

Alan Hick’s piano accompaniment was always supportive, but not overwhelming. His playing in the Schumann song cycle Frauenliebe und Leben was delicate and fitted the emotional journey of the eight songs tracing the singer’s love for her husband and child.

This concert was a tryout by Art Song Canberra of early evening concerts, with a glass of wine and light food at 6pm followed by an hour of music from 6.30. With a little more publicity, this could become an attractive part of the Canberra music experience.

Graham McDonald
Canberra Times, Monday September 17, 2007.

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American beauties

Only in America. A recital presented by Art Song Canberra. Wesley Music Centre, Forrest. Sunday, July 29.

This recital brought back the popular Canberra duo, soprano Louise Page and pianist Phillipa Candy, in a program of varied vocal delights drawn from the wide repertoire of serious, folk and popular music from the United States, and performed with expressive assurance and complete musicianship.

It began with songs from the Civil War period, first the Battle Hymn of the Republic, then Marching through Georgia followed by When Johnny comes marching home. A charming diversion followed with children’s songs by Charles Ives. The songs are simple in sentiment but are not easy to perform, and singer and pianist were as one in a fine realisation of each. The first half concluded with two groups of popular American songs.

The second half opened with the major work of the program — the song-cycle Knoxville Summer (1915) by Samuel Barber. They received an expressively shaped realisation by the singer, firmly supported by suitably brilliant supporting accompaniments provided by the pianist, for a performance of haunting beauty.

A lightening of mood followed with some 20th-century popular songs and a folk-song medley, bringing a constantly enjoyable recital to a bright conclusion.

W. L. Hoffmann
Canberra Times, Wednesday August 1, 2007.

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Mezzo up to speed

Four Canberra Songsters. An Art Song Canberra recital. Wesley Music Centre, Forrest. May 27.

Unfortunately, owing to the sickness of one of the group of four young Canberra singers giving this recital last Sunday afternoon, it became three songsters. However, happily for the audience, the distinguished Canberra soprano Louise Page stepped in at the last minute and very satisfactorily presented a group of songs to complete the program. Mezzo Lainie Hart, who has recently been making stage appearances in local music theatre productions, opened the program with a group of six Irish folk songs.

These were attractively arranged by Geoffrey Pratley, and ideally suited the light quality of her voice. With Noela Bermingham as her piano accompanist, they made a gentle and pleasing group of songs. Tenor Richard Phillips has also been singing in music theatre and as soloist in local oratorio performances, and he provided a group of five songs by English composers. These started with the jolly aria I love that love from the Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera The Sorcerer, and concluded with Roger Quilter’s delightful Love’s Philosophy.

It was good to see such young singers given the opportunity to be heard in the very different and highly demanding field of the vocal recital. Soprano Sheena Smith is a rather more experienced singer, and she displayed a fine tonal control and warm expressive feeling in a demanding group of seven Schubert songs. Included were such gems as the joyous Der Musensohn (Son of the Muses), Die junge Nonne (The young nun), with its ecstatic expression appealingly realised, and concluding with the charming Gretchen am Spinnrade.

These two singers were supported by the excellent accompaniment provided by Colin Forbes. Then Louise Page, with her usual accompanist Philippa Candy, provided beautifully shaped performances of three songs by Richard Strauss, including the hauntingly lovely Morgen (Tomorrow).

She concluded the program with two songs from her recent Dame Nellie Melba presentation — Annie Laurie, and the coloratura show-piece Lo, hear the gentle lark.

W. L. Hoffmann
Canberra Times, Wednesday May 30, 2007.

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Lightness of spirit in memorable start to Art Song season

Christina Wilson (mezzo-soprano), a recital for Art Song Canberra. John Lingard Hall, March 25.

The program which Canberra duo mezzo-soprano Christina Wilson and pianist Alan Hicks performed recently to open the 2007 “Season of Song”, which is being presented by Art Song Canberra (formerly the ACT Lieder Society), distinctly displayed the appropriateness of the society’s recent name change.

It included examples of German lieder, French chansons, and English songs, together with an Italian operatic aria, all of which are part of the wide variety of vocal forms which comprise classical art songs.

Aufeiner Wanderung (On a Walk) is a most delightful setting by Hugo Wolf, arguably the greatest master of the German lied, of a poem by Eduard Morike who was one of the finest of German romantic poets. It made a memorable start to the program, with voice and piano excellently balanced in a fine realisation of the idyllic expression of words and music. Brahms also made a considerable contribution to the German lied, and two lightly romantic examples of his artistry in this form, in equally attractive performances, completed this group.

Then there was a complete change in mood with the Canzona di Salice (The Willow Song) from Rossini’s opera Otello, the gentle sadness of words and music appealingly conveyed in a beautifully cadenced performance.

The French group brought another change in mood, with first two bright love songs Mandoline and En Sourdine by Fame, these followed with three charmingly shaped songs from the evocative song-cycle Les Nuits d’Ete (Summer Nights) of Berlioz. Here singer and pianist pleasingly conveyed the typical lightness of spirit infusing these lovely songs. The second half of the recital was devoted to a performance of the song-cycle Sea Pictures by Elgar, with the equally distinctive English qualities of both its poems and the music.

Again these songs were encompassed in performances, which were constantly arresting, with the recital rising to a suitably ecstatic conclusion with the affirmation of the fifth song, a setting of Adam Lindsay Gordon’s poem The Swimmer, with its final line, “Where no light wearies, and no love wanes.”

W. L. Hoffmann
Canberra Times, Monday April 2, 2007.

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