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2021 reviews

Kaleidoscope of colours celebrated in song

Kaleidoscope
Jade McFaul, soprano, and Lucus Allerton, piano, for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 21 February, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

As autumn approaches with its expected change of colours, it was an inspired idea to celebrate in song the astonishing kaleidoscope of the colours of nature we experience in Australia. Soprano Jade McFaul was born in SA in 1996 but moved to Canberra in 2014 and completed a Bachelor of Music (Honours) degree at the ANU. She has won several prizes in music and voice and is regularly involved in local music ensembles and choirs. Lucus Allerton graduated from the ANU School of Music with Honours in piano in 2013. He has won several prizes and is active on the art song scene. He is now employed as an accompanist for vocalists at the ANU School of Music. The concert reflected Jade McFaul’s advocacy for the programming and performance of Australian art songs which explore the relationship between poetry and music in this form. The program commenced with “The Rainbow”, composed by Australia’s Calvin Bowman to a text by American poet, William Jay Smith. It was a good choice for the start of the program, displaying the range and quality of McFaul’s beautifully clear soprano.

From there the program concentrated on individual colours, several set by composers to the texts of the early 20th century Australian poet, John Shaw Neilson. With “The Orange Tree”, composed by Horace Keats, McFaul displayed the notable clarity of her diction as well as the ability to project the depth of emotion underlying the song. With “You And Yellow Air”, composed by Alan Tregaskis, McFaul’s confidence and joy of singing was clearly displayed as she told this touching love story. Other highlights of the program included “Now Touch The Air Softly”, composed by Calvin Bowman, which was sung with great delicacy and sensitively accompanied by Lucus Allerton. “The Hour Of The Parting”, composed by Gerald Glynn, was another highlight requiring a distinctive change of mood to create a melancholy atmosphere of lost love. The finale, “O Yellow, Yellow Sweet”, composed by Alan Tregaskis, was uplifting, melodic and beautifully performed by both singer and accompanist in perfect harmony, bringing this excellent concert to a close.

Len Power
CityNews, Feb 22, 2021

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Ethereally beautiful songs alive with atmosphere

Fairy Tales From Home
Susannah Lawergren, soprano, and Maciej Pawela, piano, for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 23 May, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

In a program alive with atmosphere, soprano Susannah Lawergren and pianist Maciej Pawela presented songs by four very different composers under the title “Fairy Tales From Home”. Lawergren explained at the beginning of the concert that the songs could be seen as metaphors for aspects of the natural world – sky, sea, animal and bird life, seasons and the moon and stars. Commencing with “Mirlwa” (sky) by Australia’s First Nations composer, Brenda Gifford, the soprano started this journey through nature with soaring and sustained high notes that seemed effortlessly sung. It was the perfect opening for the concert and a taste of what was to follow. Three selections from “Songs of a Fairy Tale Princess” by Polish composer, Karol Szymanoswski, were next. The first song “Lonely Moon” was ethereally beautiful and demonstrated Lawergren’s masterful breath control, especially on sustained high notes.

This was followed by “The Nightingale”, which was a perfect choice for the soprano’s crystal-clear voice. Maciej Pawela gave a sensitive accompaniment for this song. The third song was the atmospheric “Song Of The Wave”, given a perfectly judged, wistful performance by Lawergren. Australian composer, Miriam Hyde, and her “Tone Poems Of the Sea” was given a sensitive performance with “Deep Lies An Ancient Wreck” the standout in both voice and accompaniment. Singing in English, Lawergren demonstrated her remarkably clear diction. The concert concluded with a set of five songs by Sweden’s Wilhem Stenhammar. These songs covered a range of human emotions and were beautifully sung. The second song, “The Girl On St John’s Night” and the final song “In the Forest” were the highlights. This well-planned program was given a superb performance throughout.

Len Power
CityNews, May 24, 2021

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Songs of love and life in four languages

Love and other Traps
Piera Dennerstein, soprano, and Lucus Allerton, piano, for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 18 July, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

Romantic music fills the history of art song. This concert explored the throes of love and life in four languages, over four centuries through standards to love’s philosophy.Piera Dennerstein, soprano, and Lucus Allerton, piano, began the concert with a light and playful tune, “Se Florindo è Fedele” by Alessandro Scarlatti. Dennerstein sang brightly and bounced off Allerton’s playing in a joyful and light-hearted manner, which created a welcoming opening. Then on to a staple of the art song style, a piece about unrequited love, “Caro Mio Ben”, by Tommaso Giordani. In an expressive and sensitive recital, Dennerstein let the emotion of the lyrics work on her performance, her voice and the audience. Eduardo di Capua’s most famous work, “O Sole Mio”, made even more famous by Luciano Pavarotti, which – Dennerstein says her family call her Pavarotti because she is a singer and Italian – she sang with fitting exuberance in a strong and dynamic performance. Two very different works followed, Debussy’s “En Sourdine” and “Pierrot”. The sensuality of “En Sourdine”, in that drifting and suspension filled style that Debussy owns, was made serene by both performers. Dennerstein is quite enthusiastic. Once or twice, maybe a bit too much. When attacking some high notes, she occasionally cut through excessively. This was evident in Faure’s “Fleur Jetée”.

After a brief interval, perhaps the most well-known song of all time, Schubert’s “Ave Maria”. Such a popular tune sits forefront in most people’s minds. While this was not a great rendition and sounded unbalanced, I’m sure it will become a presentation that does Dennerstein proud because her talent is clearly there. Songs by Mendelssohn and Hugo Wolf followed. The sound of the German lyrics fitted Dennerstein’s voice perfectly. The intonation of the pronunciations seemed to suit her tone better than the other languages; her voice sounded more natural in these two works.Allerton introduced several of the songs and did a wonderful job of relating the stories of the lyrics and technical aspects of the musicality of the scores. And he did it all with a devilish wit. Two songs by Benjamin Britten came next. “Death Be Not Proud”, after a text by the poet John Donne, and a crazy tune that as Dennerstein said, sounded like an ad for a telecommunications company, titled “When You’re Feeling Like Expressing Your Affection”. The dramatic and complex musical poem “Death Be Not Proud”, created the highlight of the concert for this reviewer. Sung in English, Dennerstein captured this song perfectly. This dark and gravely slow work allowed the audience to hear what a fine, sensitive and commanding voice this soprano has. The final song, “Love’s Philosophy”, after Shelley’s poem, was a rapid work that sort of chased itself. It flowed like running water and capped off a fine performance from this singer and the pianist.

Rob Kennedy
CityNews, July 19, 2021

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Love and other Traps

Love and other Traps
Piera Dennerstein, soprano, and Lucus Allerton, piano, for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 18 July, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

Love doesn’t always run smoothly and Art Song Canberra’s concert, ‘Love and Other Traps’, covered a wide range of rapturous songs and some unsettling songs involving loss and even death. The nicely balanced program included several very well-known songs as well as some lesser known ones. There were songs by Scarlatti, Giordani, Debussy, Fauré, Schubert and Britten amongst others. Soprano, Piera Dennerstein, completed a double Bachelor in Music and Arts (Hons. 1) at the Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music at Monash University. She has performed in opera in France, Italy and China and has worked extensively in Australia with the Victorian Opera Chorus and Lyric Opera of Melbourne as well as in corporate events. Piano accompanist, Lucus Allerton, graduated from the ANU School of Music with Honours in Piano in 2013. Now employed as an accompanist for vocalists at the ANU School of Music, he is active and much in demand on the art song scene nationally. The program commenced with Scarlatti’s ‘If Florindo Is Faithful’. Dennerstein sang it with great passion and accuracy, giving the song an unexpected and welcome depth of characterization. She is clearly a fine actress as well. Moving on to the very well-known ‘Caro mio ben’ by Giordani, she sang it with great tenderness but with strong feeling underneath the words. Revealing to the audience that she is Italian and that her friends’ nickname for her is ‘Pavarotti’, she then gave us a sparkling and fun ‘O solo mio!’. It was sung with great joy and her powerful voice easily handled the sustained high notes in the song.

Other highlights in the program included ‘Pierrot’ by Debussy, ‘Ave Maria’ by Schubert, Britten’s ‘Death Be Not Proud’ and Fauré’s ‘Fleur Jetée’ with a masterful performance by Allerton of the complex accompaniment for this song. Both performers gave friendly, often amusing and informative background information about the songs and their down to earth delivery easily won their audience over. Dennerstein’s love of singing was obvious throughout the program and she shared that joy with vivacity, passion and skilful singing. Once again, Art Song Canberra has given us a superb concert with two very fine performers.

Len Power
Canberra Critics Circle, July 19, 2021