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2023 reviews

Touches of Sweet Harmony

Touches of Sweet Harmony
Christina Wilson (mezzo-soprano) and Alan Hicks (piano), for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 2 April, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

To a nearly full house, the popular mezzo-soprano, Christina Wilson, and her piano accompanist, Alan Hicks, gave a fine recital focussing on music set to the words of William Shakespeare. ‘Under the greenwood tree’ from the play, ‘As You Like It’, with music by Thomas Arne from the 18th century, was a bright and appealing song that was immediately engaging. Wilson’s, clear diction, beautiful voice and joyous interpretation, as well as Alan Hicks’ masterful accompaniment with its bird-like melodies, made this the perfect start. In the first half of the program, there were also works by Percy Grainger, John Wilson, Camille Saint-Saёns, Johannes Brahms, Roger Quilter and Michael Head, ranging from the 16th to 20th centuries. In Grainger’s 20th Century ‘The Willow Song’ from ‘Othello’, Wilson captured the troubled character of Desdemona in a beautiful, melancholic and sincere interpretation. ‘The Death Of Ophelia’, from ‘Hamlet’ by Saint-Saёns, was one of the highlights of the concert, superbly sung by Wilson. The accompaniment by Alan Hicks was especially notable.

Five songs of Ophelia by Brahms followed and the changing emotions in the songs were well-captured. Wilson’s interpretation of the fourth song was especially moving. The Roger Quilter songs followed, with ‘Fear No More The Heat of the Sun’ from ‘Cymbeline’, a haunting, reflective highlight of this group. The second part of the concert commenced with another version of ‘Under the greenwood tree’ by Ivor Gurney. It was interesting to hear another composer’s take on this song and how the same words produced different emotions in the singing. A fine song by Eric Korngold, ‘Blow blow blow, thou winter wind’, from ‘As You Like It’, then three of Shakespeare’s sonnets were heard with music by Claude Duboscq. The third sonnet ‘No longer mourn for me when I am dead’ was the highlight of this group with Wilson’s dramatic interpretation and Hicks’ great accompaniment. The final bracket of songs were mostly by Australian composers including Margaret Sutherland, Peter Sculthorpe, Henry Handel Richardson and Mirrie Hill. All were of great interest, musically, and the various moods and emotions of the songs were nicely captured by Wilson. The final work was the sonnet, ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day’ by the Australian Frederick Septimus Kelly, who died in World War One. The words are beautiful on their own but Kelly’s music gives them an emotional lift which Wilson and Hicks sang and played perfectly. It was a memorable end to another fine Art Song Canberra concert.

Len Power
Canberra Critics Circle, April 3, 2023

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Women who move the heart

Women who move the heart
Sonia Anfiloff (soprano) and Alan Hicks (piano), for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 21 May, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

You can’t say that Art Song Canberra’s “Women Who Move The Heart” was going to be an easy concert for Sonia Anfiloff, soprano, and Alan Hicks, piano. Focussing on two female poets, Emily Dickinson and Mathilde Wesendonck, and on a female composer, Amy Beach, they chose the formidable song cycle of 12 Dickinson poems by composer, Aaron Copeland, and the equally difficult 5 Wesendonck Lieder by Richard Wagner as well as songs composed by Beach. Sonia Anfiloff moved to Vienna in 2010 after completing a Master of Music degree, majoring in voice performance, at the ANU where she was the recipient of the Kornfeld Scholarship. After a busy European career, she returned to Canberra in 2019 where she is now Head of Choirs at Canberra Girls Grammar School and lecturer in voice at the ANU School of Music. Alan Hicks is one of Australia’s foremost vocal coaches and accompanists. He currently works in Vocal and Opera Studies at the University of Sydney Conservatorium of Music as coach, accompanist and tutor in diction. Beginning with Copland’s Emily Dickinson song cycle, Anfiloff displayed fine control in her tender singing of “Nature, the gentlest mother” and then the power in her voice easily handled the dramatic second song, “There came a wind like a bugle”. The rest of the cycle was performed with great vocal skill as well as showing her deep understanding of Dickinson’s words.

The highlight of the cycle was “I left a funeral in my brain”. Anfiloff gave this reflective work a haunting, even nightmarish, interpretation. Alan Hicks’ accompaniment for this difficult work was excellent. The four chosen songs by Amy Beach proved to be a good contrast to the Copeland songs. Anfiloff gave these melodic works a heart-felt interpretation of great sensitivity. The challenge of Richard Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder was next on the program. All five were sung with skill and meaning. The highlights were the first song, “The angel”, which was movingly sung and the fourth, dramatic song, “Agonies”, which gave Anfiloff the opportunity to display the considerable power and control of her voice. Alan Hicks’ playing of these works was masterful. The encore was an unexpected and delightful lesser known George and Ira Gershwin song, “Blah, Blah, Blah”, which, in its different style, was just as well sung as the rest of this fine program.

Len Power
Canberra Critics Circle, May 22, 2023

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Much to like in ‘Forest’ of music

The Mysterious Forest
Susannah Lawergren (soprano) and Bernadette Harvey (piano), for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 15 October, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

The intriguing title for this Art Song Canberra concert promised forest-inspired works and others of natural beauty by Mozart, Haydn, Grieg, Debussy and Lili Boulanger from Europe as well as works by the Australian composers, Ross Edwards and Katy Abbott. Soprano Susannah Lawergren and pianist Bernadette Harvey presented a well-balanced program of songs and music with relaxed, amusing and informative commentaries about the works. Lawergren has developed a reputation for her versatility and has sung with some of the foremost ensembles, composers and festivals in Australia. An acclaimed international performer and teacher, pianist Harvey was awarded the Centenary Medal in 2000 for her contribution to Australian music. She performs regularly with Musica Viva in Australia.

The program began with four songs by Mozart – “The Violet”, “Evening Thought”, “In A Lonely Forest” and “May A Happy Calm Rise”. Lawergren sang each of them with great sensitivity, setting the atmosphere beautifully and moving easily between the differing emotions the songs evoked. Harvey then performed Haydn’s “Andante with Variations in F Minor”, a solo piano work that was reflective and joyful, and added to the atmosphere of this celebration of nature. It was beautifully and colourfully played. Four songs by Grieg followed. The highlights of this set included “One Day, My Mind” with its sombre mood finely sung with restrained emotion by Lawergren and “The Secretive Nightingale”, which she sang with delicacy and feeling.

The songs presented in the second half of the program included works by Lili Boulanger and Claude Debussy. Australian composer, Ross Edwards, was featured with “Christina’s Lullaby”, a haunting song given a heartfelt performance by Lawergren and “Emily’s Song”, a solo, lilting piano work performed superbly by Harvey. Two quirky modern works by the Australian composer, Katy Abbott, “On The Surface of Things” and “Indoor Yachting”, were a delightful change of pace, sung with beauty and sly humour by Lawergren. The final set of works was by Ross Edwards. It included a solo piano work, “Frangipani” and its fine melodies were given a nicely reflective performance by Harvey. “The Forest”, a challenging work, hauntingly sung and full of atmosphere, was the highlight of this group of songs. Ross Edwards’ “Gadigal Bird Chant”, sung by Lawergren, was a work that evoked the sounds of birds in the Dharug language and it was the perfect ending to this fine, atmospheric concert.

Len Power
Canberra CityNews, October 16, 2023

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Witty concert with America at its heart

America Sings!
AJ America (mezzo-soprano) and Roland Peelman (piano), for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 19 November, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

To paraphrase Taylor Swift, “I had a marvellous time” reviewing Art Song Canberra’s “America Sings!”, featuring mezzo-soprano AJ America and pianist Roland Peelman at Wesley Music Centre on Sunday. I’ll come back to Swift. Meanwhile, this concert explored the development of the American art song alongside the iconic cultural backdrop of the “American Century”. Ranging from its Germanic “Lied” origins to later influences of blues, hymn singing and pop-music, the pieces in this wittily curated program tell the stories of a prosperous America alongside critiques of American exceptionalism and how this has shaped the genre overtime.

They opened with “Beautiful Dreamer” and “Hard Times Come Again No More” by Stephen Foster, their pure, well-balanced sound immediately filling the hall. Peelman’s touch was gentle and delicate as America skilfully weaved in the melody. Swiftly moving on to Mahler’s “Three Rückert Lieder”, the music fluctuated between something that was rather nostalgic but then turned into something a bit panicked and bashful with “Blicke mir nicht in die Lieder”. Fast forward to 1926, and to the work of a lesser-known female composer, Florence Price. The duo performed her “Songs to the Dark Virgin”. Price was the first African American composer to have her music played by an American Symphony orchestra however, until recently, was largely neglected after her death. This piece was performed elegantly and with great control. Next were three pieces by Charles Ives, in which the duo displayed a full range of virtuosity and delightful lyricism. Notably, the third piece “Majority”. The text is written by the composer himself and presents eccentric atonal and dissonant material that is unique to Ives’ compositional style, especially considering that this was several years before the radical theories of the Second Viennese School. Peelman embodied this eccentricity with tenacity, his piano highlighting the contrasts between the weighty cluster-chords and the more delicate intricate melodies. America tackled the challenging chromatic lines with conviction, which made for a most wonderful and engaging performance.

Returning from a short interval was “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” by Australian composer Peggy Glanville-Hicks who, inspired by the wonders of American modernity, set her music to the text of the poet Wallace Stevens. The duo performed this edgy piece with passion and great skill interweaving the contrasting moods with ease. A brusquely comical “Fünf Elegie” by Hanns Eisler was then performed, which juxtaposes an elegy with ironic music and a rather obscene text. This was followed by a groovy blues influenced “Dirge for Two Veterans” and “Speak Low” by Jewish composer Kurt Weill. Concluding the concert, “The Last Great American Dynasty” by Taylor Swift made a surprise appearance – even with Peelman featuring on vocals after jokingly muttering to the audience something to the extent that “yes, this is really happening”. Bravi.

Dante Costa
Canberra CityNews, November 20, 2023

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America Sings!

America Sings!
AJ America (mezzo-soprano) and Roland Peelman (piano), for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 19 November, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

Exploring the changing world of American art song, “America Sings!” was a fascinating journey that focussed on composers like Stephen Foster, known as the “Father of American Music”, through foreign composers that visited America such as Gustav Mahler, who brought a German influence, and Australia’s Peggy Glanville-Hicks as well as contemporary American composers like Charles Ives and Taylor Swift. The mezzo-soprano, AJ America, is a performer, conductor and creative producer. She is the Artistic Director and founder of Luminescence Chamber Singers and Children’s Choir and currently serves as Chair of the Minister’s Creative Council. Pianist, Roland Peelman, has been active in Australia for over 30 years as a conductor, pianist, artistic director and mentor to singers, composers and musicians. He has been the Artistic Director of the Canberra International Music Festival since 2015.

The program commenced with two songs by Stephen Foster, “Beautiful Dreamer” and “Hard Times Come Again No More”. A J America’s rich mezzo-soprano gave these songs a comforting warmth. Her clear diction made every word count. The program of many contrasting songs was a good showcase for America’s fine vocal ability. Highlights from the first half of the program included “Songs To The Dark Virgin” by Florence Price and Charles Ives’ electrifying “Majority” which was given a strongly dramatic and winning performance by America. Peelman’s breath-taking accompaniment to this work included moments where, not just his fingers, but his whole arm had to be used on the keyboard! The second half of the program commenced with Peggy Glanville-Hicks’ haunting “Thirteen Ways Of Looking At a Blackbird”, followed by the edgy “Five Elegies” by Hans Eisler, a life-long collaborator with Berthold Brecht. The two very different works were sung well by America. After the songs by Eisler, it seemed a natural step to two songs by Kurt Weill, “Dirge For Two Veterans” from the poem by Walt Whitman and the sublime “Speak Low”. America sang this with a sensitivity that added a welcome dimension to this well-known song. The program finished with “The Last Great American Dynasty”, a 2020 song by Taylor Swift. America and Peelman gave this a performance that was both witty and colourful, bringing this highly stimulating program to a close.

Len Power
Canberra Critics Circle, November 20, 2023

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2022 reviews

Piazzolla – a Century of Tango

Piazzolla – a Century of Tango
Ayșe Göknur Shanal (soprano), Monica Cichon (violin), Aleksandar Zivkovic (cello) and Eugenie Tamplon (piano), for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 20 February, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

Listening to the soprano, Ayşe Göknur Shanal, sing the tango music of composer, Astor Piazzola, you could be forgiven for believing the songs had been written especially for her. Her singing was so intensely personal and passionate that the meaning of the songs hardly required any translation. Her rich, clear soprano is perfectly suited to the songs of Piazzola. To sing them well, with their driving and changing rhythms, great technical skill and the ability to give the songs the emotional level they require, is essential. Every song was performed superbly but there were a number of highlights. The first song presented, ‘Ballad For My Death’ was startling in its intensity and ‘For The Head’ with its familiar tune was given a romantic and highly emotional performance. ‘Oblivion’ was full of passion and ‘Goodbye Nonino’ was heart-breakingly moving.

The accompanists played a number of Piazzola’s instrumental works as well as the songs. ‘Otono’, ‘Psychosis’ (piano and cello), ‘Invierno Porteno’ and Libertango’ were all extremely well-played. This concert for Art Song Canberra by Ayşe Göknur Shanal was as memorable as her previous one, ‘A Journey From East To West’, in 2018. She is a fine singer who clearly loves to sing and she is not afraid to perform the full range of emotions in the works she presents. In addition, her down to earth and friendly personality gives her an immediate connection with audiences. If she returns for more concerts, and I hope she does, she is not to be missed. Ayşe Göknur Shanal has won many prestigious awards and scholarships here in Australia and overseas. She has performed widely in the USA, UK, Europe and Asia including Opera Ausralia, Turkish State opera and Opera Queensland. She was accompanied by Monica Cichon (violin), Aleksandar Zivkovic (cello) and Eugenie Tamplon (piano). Each artist has a formidable list of qualifications and performance credits. Astor Piazzolla was an Argentine tango composer, bandoneon player, and arranger. His work revolutionized the traditional tango into a new style termed nuevo tango, incorporating elements from jazz and classical music. A virtuoso bandoneonist, he regularly performed his own compositions with a variety of ensembles. He was 71 when he died in 1992.

Len Power
Canberra Critics Circle, Feb 21, 2022

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Celebrating a century of tango

Piazzolla – a Century of Tango
Ayșe Göknur Shanal (soprano), Monica Cichon (violin), Aleksandar Zivkovic (cello) and Eugenie Tamplon (piano), for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 20 February, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

CELEBRATING a century of tango, The Storytellers Ensemble played music by Astor Piazzolla and his contemporaries that marked their contribution to classical music. The performers were Ayșe Göknur Shanal, soprano, Monica Cichon, violin, Aleksandar Zivkovic, cello, Eugenie Tamplon, piano. In the first Art Song Canberra concert for the year at the Wesley Music Centre, this quality quartet, The Storytellers Ensemble performed the delicious sound of the tango. This living music openly represented the sinuous movements and backward kick of the tango. Beginning with “Ötono” by Piazzolla, for the trio of piano, violin and cello, the immediate presence of first-class playing jumped out at this reviewer. The depth of the performance matched equally by the intensity of this passionate music. It burst into the ears. Shanal came onto the stage for Piazzolla’s “Ballada para mi Muerte”. Like a prayer, Shanal sang and spoke about death, tobacco and the tango. Filled with fire and melancholy, the players sounded like a small orchestra.

Then “Vuelve al Sur”. The complexity and uniqueness of this song is what stood out. Combined with the passion of the lyrics and the performance made for some exceptional music. Two songs by Carlos Gardel followed. The mellow music of the “El dia que me quieras”, a more traditional art song, still had an expressive quality that sank straight into the heart. Then, “Par una cabeza”. Used in many movies, it had a lot of kick in its short timeframe. It makes you want to move. Four more works by Piazzolla followed. “Psychosis”, for piano and cello, had a deeply passionate rhythm and flowing lines that made this music instantly recognisable; it was played deliciously. Then, something special, Piazzolla’s setting of the “Ave Maria”. This was a unique experience. While more like a sad love song than a prayer, it melts a listener. “Oblivion”, which is set in French, was full of beautiful musical effects. The lyrics, which were part spoken in the middle, combined with the soft slow lilt of the strings, the driving passion of the piano and the powerful vocal over the top, created a soaring and compelling performance. The magical music of Alberto Ginastera came next, his “Canción al árbol del olvido”. This subtly deceptive work moved at a walking pace; the tune flowed between the cello and the soprano. It never gets above middle volume and seems to end suddenly; this was more than fascinating.

The final three works by Piazzolla saved the best for last. His song titled “Adios Nonino”, about the death of his father cut deeply. “Libertango” pounded out its rhythm and poignant melody. Then, “Che Tango Che”. With castanets, played by Shanal as she sang, added extra depth to this dynamic work. I’m sure many in the audience wanted to get up, dance and kick up their heels. Gorgeous music, wonderful playing, and passionate singing, what more could anyone ask for, but we got more, an encore. Once again, the darkly beautiful and sensual, “Oblivion”.

Rob Kennedy
CityNews, Feb 21, 2022

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Christina Wilson sings it with ‘great sensitivity’

Persons of Interest
Christina Wilson (mezzo-soprano) and Alan Hicks (piano), for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 3 April, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

IN Art Song Canberra’s latest concert, “Persons of Interest”, mezzo-soprano Christina Wilson and pianist Alan Hicks took us on a journey back through time. Many art songs have been written about figures real and imaginary, from myth and legend and from history and literature and the concert focused on a number of these. Characters such as Orpheus, King David, Desdemona, Mignon and many others have been inspirational to composers over the centuries including Franz Schubert, Joseph Haydn, Edward Elgar, Arthur Sullivan, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Richard Rodney Bennett and others. “Orpheus with His Lute” by Arthur Sullivan, set to the text by William Shakespeare from his play, “Henry The Eighth”, was the first item in the program. Christina Wilson sang it with great sensitivity, the warmth of her rich mezzo-soprano voice and her clear diction took the audience deep into the sweeping imagery of the song.

As the concert progressed, Wilson sang other musical settings of the same “Orpheus” text by composers such as Ralph Vaughan Williams and Ivor Gurney. It was fascinating to compare the approach to this text by these very different composers. There were sets of songs by Franz Schubert including three Mignon songs, “A Garland for Marjory Fleming” by Richard Rodney Bennett to a text written by an eight-year-old girl, “The Shepherd” by Nigel Butterley to words by William Blake, songs for texts by William Shakespeare and others. It’s very difficult to come up with highlights at a Christina Wilson concert as she sings everything with such skill and beauty. In addition, she has the dramatic ability to create the characters she is singing, adding an extra dimension to the songs. She and Alan Hicks work so well together, the results are simply sublime. There was, though, one song that really stood out from the others because it was sung unaccompanied by Wilson. It was “The Singer”, composed by Michael Head to a text by Bronnie Taylor. This haunting song was a magnificent showcase for the purity of Wilson’s voice and the skill of her vocal technique. Once again, Christina Wilson and Alan Hicks produced a concert of great quality that was highly entertaining. The near capacity audience’s appreciation of their work was evident by the enthusiastic applause at the end of the show.

Len Power
CityNews, April 4, 2022

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The unfamiliar world of 19th century singing

Schubert und Schiller
Koen Van Stade (tenor) and Neal Peres Da Costa (fortepiano), for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 22 May, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

THE evolution of musical instruments and singing techniques over the centuries is an interesting field for research. It can be quite exciting to hear music played on early instruments and discover how vocal techniques have changed. In their concert for Art Song Canberra, “Schubert and Schiller”, tenor Koen van Stade and pianist Neal Peres Da Costa, took the audience on a journey into the now unfamiliar world of 19th century singing. Neal Peres Da Costa played a fortepiano, a replica grand piano from Franz Schubert’s time of the early 19th century. It has a smaller keyboard compared to a modern piano and produces a distinctively softer, but very clear sound. Koen van Stade sang a number of Schubert songs from the period. He began with three “Wanderer” songs set to texts by different poets. They were superbly sung with great vocal control and feeling and it was immediately noticeable that he was using some unfamiliar vocal techniques. Between songs he explained the techniques he was using and their historical significance. It added another dimension to this fascinating concert. Audience members showed great interest in the fortepiano, inspecting it up close during the interval. Noting the audience’s interest, Neal Peres Da Costa gave a talk about the fortepiano and demonstrated its differences to the modern piano. He then gave a sublime performance of Schubert’s “Impromptu No. 3”, a work familiar to audiences and a good choice to show the different sounds made by the fortepiano. The main vocal part of the concert was the singing of two songs by Schubert set to epic poems by Friedrich von Schiller – “Die Bürgschaft” (The Pledge) and “Der Taucher” (The Diver). Both van Stade and Da Costa gave thrilling performances of these highly dramatic and complex works.

Peter Chandler, speaking to the audience for Art Sound Canberra, quipped that the works were “a bit more exciting than your average lieder”. He was right and the whole concert was also an unexpected and very pleasing immersion into 19th century music and singing.

Len Power
CityNews, May 23, 2022

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Delightful concert of familiar and unfamiliar romantic classics

Romantic Classics
Andrew Goodwin (tenor) and John Martin (piano), for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 24 July, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

THE list of classic romantic songs by Fauré, Hahn, Poulenc, Schumann, Strauss, Mahler and Rachmaninov and piano works by Chopin was attractive enough to attend Art Song Canberra’s concert, but the combination of tenor, Andrew Goodwin, and pianist, John Martin, made it an event to remember. Sydney-born Andrew Goodwin became the first Australian to study classical singing at St Petersburg State Conservatory in Russia. He has gone on to a busy international career singing at some of the world’s greatest opera houses and concert halls. He is a passionate champion of art song. In a colourful career of great variety, pianist John Martin has worked with many stars of the Australian and international concert and theatre scenes. The concert commenced with the song, “After a Dream”, by Gabriel Fauré. Andrew Goodwin sang it with great tenderness. The clarity and control of his voice was remarkable and he made this wide-ranging song sound effortless to sing. He followed with “At the Water’s Edge” by Reynaldo Hahn and, again, it was sung extremely well. His singing of the final sustained high note was hauntingly beautiful.

“To Chloris” by Reynaldo Hahn showed how striking it was that Goodwin could convey so much emotion through these songs with subtle vocal inflections. He then showed his acting skills as well with an extroverted and colourful performance of “:Paganini” from Poulenc’s “Métamorphoses” song cycle. Other highlights included “Morgen!” by Richard Strauss, “Where the Splendid Trumpets Sound” by Gustav Mahler and “Lilacs” by Sergei Rachmaninov. Every song was superbly accompanied by Martin and the lively and humorous interaction of the two men between songs showed their working relationship was an enjoyable one. Martin performed two solo works. His playing of Chopin’s highly romantic “Waltz in C# minor, Op. 64 No. 2” was sublime. He followed it later in the concert with another work by Chopin, “Impromptu No 1 in A flat, Op. 29”. Again, it was played superbly and with so much feeling. The audience responded with enthusiastic applause. This was a delightful concert of familiar and unfamiliar romantic classics by two highly skilful artists.

Len Power
CityNews, July 25, 2022

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Taking the Lied and coming up roses

The Time of Roses
Jill Sullivan (mezzo-soprano) and Donna Balson (piano), for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 16 October, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

ART Song Canberra’s “The Time of Roses” was presented by mezzo-soprano Jill Sullivan and pianist Donna Balson who explored the flowering of the romantic lied.

The duo set the audience adrift with the divine sounds, while following the Lied’s development over the years through the works of various composers. Throughout the cleverly curated program, roses served as a motif in a story that symbolised the human life cycle and a spectrum of emotions from love and excitement to grief and sadness. Opening with Beethoven’s “Adelaide Op.46”, Sullivan and Balson’s presence immediately lit up the room. The piece was well balanced and subtle, which demonstrated a high degree of musicality by the duo. This was then followed by Wagner’s “Im Treibhaus” and “Träume”, which offered a heavier, more solemn mood. Sullivan’s subtle inflections conjured up the music’s emotional character and notions of being sunken under the intoxicating power of love and desire for something unattainable. Inspired by an old Irish folk song, Mendelssohn’s “Fantasia in E major – The Last Rose of Summer” was performed for solo piano. Balson’s playing was incredibly sensitive and tender, which portrayed an image of a lonely rose, nearing the end of its life in the summer heat. The notes flew effortlessly under her fingers as the sparsely ornamented melody developed in a theme and variation – or rather what Balson suggested as “improvisation and response”. Combining the next pieces into one seamless work were a set of five lieds by Brahms. A mix of giddy, innocent short works such as “Botschaft Op.47, No.1”, “O komme holde Sommernacht Op.58, No.4”, and “Meine Liebe ist Grün Op.63, No.5” weaved their way around more poignant and plaintive pieces such as “Sapphische Ode Op.94, No.4” and “Immer leise wird mein Schlummer Op.105, No.2”.

Following an interval, the duo resumed the stage with various magical and transient works by Greig, Mahler and Strauß. Balson then presented yet another arrangement of “The Last Rose of Summer,” this time by English composer, Benjamin Britten. Straying from the romantic German Lied theme, this piece was a welcomed nuanced gem in the program. Despite conveying an affection of loneliness and seclusion, the music could not have been more colourful as Balson expressed the rich harmonies on the piano. She moved with such grace and command of her instrument that the music effortlessly wove its way around the room. The final pieces of the concert were a set of seven compositions by Sibelius; “Flickan kom ifrån Op.37, No.5”, “Illale Op.17, No.6”, “Kom nu hit, Död Op.60, No.1”, “De bägge rosorna Op.88, No.2”, “Norden Op.90, No.1”, “Demanten på marssnön” Op.90, No.6”, and “Svarta Rosor Op.36, No.1”. Seldom performed in favour of more mainstream French, German and, Italian repertoire, these works in Swedish and Finnish were truly stunning. Sullivan’s singing displayed incredible dynamic variety and expression which showcased the range of emotions illustrated in the poems. Her mellow and dulcet lower register was complemented by the light arpeggiated lines of Balson at the piano. The sweep of enthusiasm and innocence of young love through to the notion of intense grief were conveyed convincingly by both musicians. Concluding with a seemingly more sprightly encore piece, Sullivan and Balson presented a wonderfully curated program that showcased the blooming of the romantic Lied laced with an apt imagery of roses and nature. Overall, it was both a convincing and enjoyable performance.

Dante Costa
CityNews, Oct 17, 2022

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The Time of Roses

The Time of Roses
Jill Sullivan (mezzo-soprano) and Donna Balson (piano), for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 16 October, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

Think of roses and their romantic scent the scent and it’s no wonder composers wrote so many songs focussing on this flower. In ‘The Time Of Roses’, Art Song Canberra’s latest concert, mezzo-soprano, Jill Sullivan, and pianist, Donna Balson, presented a range of songs and music celebrating roses and romance by composers such as Beethoven, Schubert, Wagner, Grieg, Mahler, Sibelius and Mendelssohn. Jill Sullivan, mezzo-soprano, has performed throughout Australia in opera and concert. She has performed with Opera Australia, the West Australian Opera and the Queensland Opera. She has an extensive concert, chamber and recital repertoire. Donna Balson, pianist, worked in Germany for 25 years. She now teaches at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. She has also performed as a singer internationally. The program began with ‘Adelaide’ by Beethoven. Sullivan’s rich mezzo-soprano was notable for its power and clarity as well as her clear diction. She gave a fine performance of this song, bringing out an appealing rapturous sensitivity. Other songs by Schubert and Brahms followed but the highlight of this first half of the concert was two of the Wesendonck Lieder by Richard Wagner, ‘In the Hothouse’ and ‘Dreams’. They displayed the power of her voice and her interpretation of the songs with their emotional range was thrilling. Donna Balson played the ‘Fantasia in E major – The Last Rose of Summer’. It was a fine performance, bringing out the loneliness and reflectiveness of the work.

The highlights of the second part of the concert were Grieg’s ‘I Love But Thee’, two songs by Richard Strauss, ‘Red Roses’ and ‘The Roseband’, and the Sibelius setting of Shakespeare’s ‘Come Away Death’. All of them were an excellent showcase for Sullivan’s rich and powerful voice. Donna Balson’s accompaniment was assured throughout. Donna Balson also played Benjamin Britten’s ‘The Last Rose Of Summer’ with a moving sensitivity and warmth. Both performers gave down to earth information about the songs and piano works played. It was a memorable concert by these two fine artists.

Len Power
Canberra Critics Circle, Oct 17, 2022

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Soprano shares the wonders of spring

Primavera!
Sarah Mann (soprano) and Ella Luhtasaari (piano), for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 20 November, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

UNEXPECTEDLY, soprano Sarah Mann was first heard but not seen as she entered from the back of the Wesley Music Centre singing an Amy Beach song. Her hauntingly beautiful voice was fresh, sunny and warm, like the perfect spring day. The songs of “Primavera!”, in Art Song Canberra’s latest concert, were all chosen to evoke the wonders of spring. Works by Joseph Canteloube, Maurice Ravel, Richard Strauss, Claude Debussy, Roger Quilter, Enrique Granados and Amy Beach made up the program. Mann is an accomplished performer, teacher and administrator. She has performed more than 26 principal soprano roles in opera, operetta and oratorio, as well as performances with state and national arts organisations. She is fondly remembered by Canberrans in the role of Cosette in the early ’90s first production of Canberra Philharmonic’s “Les Miserables”.

Ella Luhtasaari is a collaborative pianist and teacher based in Canberra. She completed bachelor degrees in music and psychology at the ANU and completed post-graduate studies in Austria and the UK. She is a vocal and language coach at the ANU School Of Music. Three “Songs of the Auvergne” by Canteloube were a perfect next choice with their sense of the countryside in spring. The second song, “Spring Water” was a teasingly beautiful highlight and was delightfully sung by Mann. The accompaniment for all three songs by Luhtasaari was excellent. Other highlights included a sublime marriage of voice and piano with “Morgan” by Richard Strauss and, in the second half of the program, ‘”Elegia Eterna” (Eternal Lament) by Granados was dramatic with high, sustained notes that seemed incredibly difficult, but Mann sang with apparent ease. The other Granados work on the program, “Gracia Mia” (My Graceful One) was jubilantly sung and the joyful Roger Quilter’s “Love’s Philosophy” from a poem by Shelley was so memorable and obtained such a positive reaction from the audience. It was welcomed again as an encore. This was a memorable concert by Mann, who clearly loves what she does, and had the good fortune to have such a superb accompanist as Luhtasaari.

Len Power
CityNews, Nov 21, 2022

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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

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Superbly played, beautifully sung… music’s back

Bright Star
Sarahlouise Owens, soprano and Ronan Apcar, piano, for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 14 November, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

FOR the first concert after the covid lockdown, Art Song Canberra presented soprano, Sarahlouise Owens and pianist, Ronan Apcar, in “Bright Star”, a concert of songs by living Australian composers. Two of the composers, Michael Dooley and Margaret Legge-Wilkinson were present at the performance. Sarahlouise Owens explained at the start of the concert that the songs had been chosen in a spirit of optimism and hope at the end of the lockdown. They promoted connections with each other and the environment, and a sense of looking forward as life goes on. The first song, “Hymn to the Trinity” by Michael Dooley was a sensitive work with a Christian message that we are all one and need to unite in brotherhood. Owens sang it with warmth and clarity as well as a restraint that nicely underlined the emotions in the song. There are some especially beautiful melodies in this work and they were well-played by Apcar. The second work, by Margaret Legge-Wilkinson, was “Girls and Horses in the Fire”, based on a poem by Lisa Jacobson, written in a response to the Black Saturday bushfires of 2009. This highly dramatic work full of intense emotions was very well sung by Owens and there was notably fine piano playing of the challenging score by Apcar.

Dooley’s “Bright Star”, based on the poem by John Keats, is a hauntingly beautiful work. The music brings out the sensitivity of the words perfectly and it was given a luminous performance by Owens and Apcar. Sally Greenaway’s “Cocooned for Breathing” was an unusual work for soprano, piano and singing bowl. The bowl was played by Owens as she sang. The sounds produced by the bowl give the work a meditative quality and the overall effect of voice, piano and bowl was haunting and ritualistic. It was an excellent performance of this unique and memorable work by the Canberra composer. The final work, “To a City Cousin”, by John Martin celebrated the environment and was given a joyful and sunny performance by Owens and Apcar.

For an encore, Owens gave a sensitive, heartfelt performance of the Irish song “Bonny Portmore”.This was a performance where all the elements came together especially well. Apcar played superbly, Owens sang beautifully and really connected with her appreciative audience. It was a highly memorable concert.

Len Power
CityNews, November 15, 2021; Canberra Critics Circle, November 18, 2021

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2020 reviews

Owens takes on ‘male’ songs with emotion

Girls Wearing the Trousers
Sarahlouise Owens, soprano, and Natalia Tkachenko, piano, for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 1 March, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

Gender bending in theatre has become trendy of late with women now taking on classic male roles like Richard III and Hamlet and we’ve recently seen a male giving his performance of Buttercup in “HMS Pinafore”. In music there’s a vast repertoire of songs that have been traditionally denied to women and vice versa. Soprano Sarahlouise Owens, in her concert, “Girls Wearing Trousers” breaks through that barrier and presents a range of songs normally sung by males. This was not being done as a feminist diatribe, she said in her introduction, just levelling the playing field. Sarahlouise Owens has worked extensively in Europe and is a graduate of the ANU School of Music and Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester. Her accompanist Natalia Tkachenko graduated with honours from the Moscow State Institute of Music and worked extensively in Moscow, France, Germany and South Korea before residing and working with the ANU School of Music in Canberra. The first half of the concert consisted of the complete 20 Dichterliebe songs by Robert Schumann. Composed in 1840, this is the best known of Schumann’s song cycles. The words of the songs are from the Lyrisches Intermezzo poems of Heinrich Heine.

Striking the right emotional level from the first song, Owens’ performance of this work was highly memorable. The songs range across various emotional states and she gave readings of great depth and power where appropriate and contrasted this with sensitive and delicate singing for the quietly emotional songs. Her clarity of diction was especially notable in the swiftly sung song number 3, “The Rose, the lily, the dove and the sun”. After interval, Owens performed works by Lili Boulanger, Dimitri Shostakovitch and Alexander Alabiev. Boulanger’s “Clearings in the Sky” songs are hauntingly beautiful and were beautifully sung with a controlled emotional intensity. A performance of three of Shostakovitch’s “Satires Opus 109” followed and their humour provided a delightful change of pace. Natalia Tkachenko’s accompaniment for the different styles of all three composers was masterful. The finale of the concert was Alexander Alabiev’s beautiful song, “Solovei” (Nightingale). It was sung with clarity and great feeling by Owens, bringing this fine concert to a close. The emotional content of these songs clearly applied equally to both sexes. Sarahlouise Owens showed that it was entirely appropriate for either gender to sing them.

Len Power
CityNews, March 2, 2020

 

The Unexpected Journey Back

The Unexpected Journey Back
Sonia Anfiloff, soprano, Kylie Loveland, piano and Rowan Harvey-Martin, violin and viola, for Art Song Canberra
Saturday 17 October, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

After 9 years in Vienna, soprano Sonia Anfiloff has returned to Canberra. The choice of songs in her Art Song Canberra concert entitled, ‘The Unexpected Journey Back’, reflected her emotional response to her journey through life so far, the good and the bad. She presented a wide-ranging and challenging choice of songs by Vaughan Williams, Korngold, Sibelius, Wagner, Copland, Brahms, Duparc, Richard Strauss and Rachmaninoff. Anfiloff was accompanied by Kylie Loveland on piano and, on certain songs, by Rowan Harvey-Martin on violin and viola. Both Loveland and Harvey-Martin are very well-known and respected performers here in Canberra and beyond. The program commenced with ‘Silent Noon’ by Ralph Vaughan Williams. This beautiful song set the emotional tone for the concert and it was sung with great delicacy and feeling by Anfiloff. She was able to demonstrate both the power of her rich soprano voice as well as her ability to judge the right level of emotion that this song needs to be a very moving experience for an audience.

As the program continued it became clear how carefully the songs had been chosen to display Anfiloff’s voice and her ability to sing them with accuracy and feeling. The dramatic passages of ‘Was it a dream?’ by Jean Sibelius were very well sung and the piano accompaniment by Kylie Loveland was superb. Wagner’s ‘In The Hothouse’, was sung with great introspection and two works by Brahms were emotionally very effective. The viola playing by Rowan Harvey-Martin was especially notable in the first Brahms song, ‘Assuaged Longing’. The final three songs of the concert by Henri Duparc, Richard Strauss and Sergei Rachmaninoff were the highlights of the concert. All very different works, they gave Sonia Anfiloff the opportunity to show her full range of skill and artistry. ‘In The Glow Of Evening’ by Strauss was especially memorable. ‘Spring Waters’ by Rachmaninoff provided a welcome note of optimism and was sung with great spirit. For an encore, Anfiloff sang Henry Mancini’s ‘Crazy World’ from the 1982 movie, ‘Victor Victoria’. The emotion of this contemporary song fitted perfectly with the program of songs she had just presented, bringing this fine concert to a satisfying close.

Len Power
Canberra Critics Circle, October 18, 2020

 

Passionate songs tell of unexpected journey

The Unexpected Journey Back
Sonia Anfiloff, soprano, Kylie Loveland, piano and Rowan Harvey-Martin, violin and viola, for Art Song Canberra
Saturday 17 October, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

IT’S been seven months since my last music review for “CityNews” due to COVID-19 and this concert of art songs, as its title suggests, has led to an unexpected journey between performances. The title of this concert, “The Unexpected Journey Back”, illustrates soprano Sonia Anfiloff’s journey to date through her voice to her life. It is also about how life imitates art and art imitates life. Performing with Anfiloff were Rowan Harvey-Martin on violin and viola and Kylie Loveland piano, who all teach at the same school. For Art Song’s first concert in more than seven months, they began with “Silent Noon” by Vaughan Williams. This sensitive song flowed with a lilt and subtlety that made it feel quite contemporary. Anfiloff’s voice carried it clearly and sensitively as did Loveland on piano. A composer not heard nearly enough in the concert hall followed, Erich Wolfgang Korngold. His sweeping Hollywood movie music sound lay in the background for his splendid song “Unvergänglichkeit”, which means immortality. “Var det en dröm” by Sibelius is an elegant song that asks, was it a dream? Anfiloff sang with a powerful volume through its delicate moments. Her prevailing voice soared through the centre in this intense work.

Wagner’s “Im Treibhaus”, seemed almost untouchable. Anfiloff’s softness and finesse echoed through this haunting tune. A repetitive motive on the piano kept reminding the audience just how lingering great music like this is. The moments where Anfiloff sang unaccompanied hit a poignant high mark. The poem “Heart, we will forget him”, by Emily Dickinson was set to music by Aaron Copland. This short song steps along at a slow pace. Copland made his music sound like the sensitive expressions this poem holds. Anfiloff and Loveland made this work so well. Then, for the Brahms songs in “Zwei Gesänge”, Rowan Harvey-Martin joined the pair with her viola. The addition of this voice made the sound much more complex. The stringed voice added ample mystery to this sweet yet formidable work. Anfiloff’s voice got a little lost under the volume of the other instruments at times during the first of these songs, which was titled “Gestillte Sehnsucht”. In the second, “Geistilches Wiegenlied”, the three performers balanced well in this gentle lullaby. Songs by Duparc and Richard Strauss followed, then for the final work on the program, Rachmaninoff’s “Spring Waters”, from his 12 romances Op. 14. In this work, the audience was hit with the full dramatic power of Anfiloff’s voice. This wholehearted song ripped out with such intense power as Anfiloff gave it her all, knocking this reviewer back in his seat. Anfiloff then spoke saying she had never not given an encore then gave the audience a Broadway song from Victor Victoria, “Crazy World”. This clearly mirrored what Anfiloff and this world have been going through. The quality and presence of Anfiloff’s performance never dimmed in this quite special song.

It was wonderful to hear live music again, especially to hear these passionate songs performed so strongly. It was great to have performers back again and to see a group hug from this trio at the end.

Rob Kennedy
CityNews, October 18, 2020

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By Royal Favour

By Royal Favour
Sarahlouise Owens, soprano, and Natalia Tkachenko, piano, for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 22 November, 3pm/4.15pm. Wesley Music Centre

Richard Wagner and many other famous composers relied on the generous patronage of royal personages who commissioned large amounts of repertoire. Educated in the arts, many royals were also known to compose music and prose as well. In their Art Song Canberra concert, ‘By Royal Favour’, Sarahlouise Owens, soprano, and Natalia Tkachenko, piano, presented various favourites of Royals of the 19th century, concentrating on the Victorian and Romanov courts. Sarahlouise Owens has worked extensively in Europe and is a graduate of the ANU School of Music and Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester. She has established herself as a busy concert artist and recitalist of Art Song since her return to Australia. Natalia Tkachenko graduated with honours from the Moscow State Institute of Music and worked extensively in Moscow, France, Germany and South Korea before residing in Canberra and working with the ANU School of Music.

Music composition had formed an important part of the early musical education of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband. Three of his songs were included in the concert – ‘Serenade’, ‘To A Messenger’ and ‘Mourning Song’. All three were romantic and melodic and Sarahlouise Owens sang them simply but with great feeling. Queen Victoria and Price Albert were great admirers of the music of Felix Mendelssohn. His song, ‘First Loss’, was given a hauntingly beautiful performance by Owens and her fine singing of ‘Italy’, by Mendelssohn’s sister, Fanny, evoked the rich colour and atmosphere of that country. Songs by the well-known Russian composers, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov and Rachmaninov were also presented. Tchaikovsky’s ‘I Opened A Window’ and ‘First Date’, set to poems by Konstantin Romanov, the grandson of Emperor Nicholas I of Russia, were especially well sung by Owens. The piano playing by Tkachenko of ‘First Date’ was outstanding. Also included were songs by the now lesser known but famous in their day, Samuel Maykapar and Arseny Koreshchenko. ’My Dreams Shone In Them!’ by Maykapar was a hauntingly melodic work that was sung with notable delicacy and great warmth by Owens.

Once again, Sarahlouise Owens presented a well-researched concert that gave the music an added level of historical and human interest. With her fine singing and the superb piano playing of Natalia Tkachenko, we were treated to an expert and enjoyable concert.

Len Power
Canberra Critics Circle, November 23, 2020

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Sinuous sounds to emotional wrath in recital

By Royal Favour
Sarahlouise Owens, soprano, and Natalia Tkachenko, piano, for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 22 November, 3pm/4.15pm. Wesley Music Centre

ROYALTY from across the world have always supported composers and musicians, and in this concert, soprano Sarahlouise Owens and pianist Natalia Tkachenko presented much-loved music by the royals of the 19th century. Sounding particularly imperial, the concert opened with a serenade from Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha – that’s Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria. Owens, with her distinct flair and animation sang the part of a serenader with aplomb. Then another song by the Prince, “To a Messenger”, a short, smooth song performed delightfully by Tkachenko on piano. Felix Mendelssohn’s song “First Loss” had a greater air of seriousness and musicality. This song of lost happiness flowed seamlessly from both soprano and pianist. Then another work by the Prince. This one with the quirky title of “Mourning Song”, which rolled up and down the keyboard, and from Owens, a delightful, held-back refinement of well-placed vocal articulations. Moving on to the other Mendelssohn, Fanny, her song “Italy” describes this country as “this land of poetry”. This jumpy, happy tune bounced with bright colours.

Tchaikovsky’s Romances two, three and four, of the six songs in his cycle covered a lot of musical and emotional territory. From sweet, sinuous sounds to the impassioned expressions of a “First Date” experience, these works had Owens expressing her considerable talent throughout the emotional wrath of the three songs. “My Dream Shone in Them!”, by a composer this reviewer had never heard of, Samuel Maykapar from Russia, who was also a pianist, showed how great a composer he was. The strength of this song lay in the variety of styles it contained. It was a completely moving piece. Two songs by another great Russian composer and orchestrator, Rimsky-Korsakov, portrayed the growing unrest before the Bolshevik Revolution. These art songs were filled with edgy singing and the second song “Not the Wind” was the most passionate tune performed in the concert. Two songs by the Russian composer Arseny Koreschenko followed. Then Rachmaninov with the final songs on the program “Prayer” and “Don’t Sing, My Beauty”, performed with expert control by Owens. Both showed off the range and flawlessness of her voice. To honour the English operatic soprano Anna Bishop, whose husband Henry Bishop wrote “Home Sweet Home”, Owens encored with a delightful, soul-filled rendition of this song that sings of the pleasure of returning to one’s home. Perhaps this was a simile for coming out of the uncertain times that surround us.

Rob Kennedy
CityNews, November 23, 2020

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Enveloped by the power and joy of music

To Music
Bethany Hill, soprano, and Penelope Cashman, piano, for Art Song Canberra
Saturday 12 December, 3pm/4.15pm. Wesley Music Centre

MUSIC can take us out of ourselves and bear us away from life’s challenges. Taking their inspiration from the words in Franz Schubert’s song “An Die Musik” (To Music), Bethany Hill, soprano, and Penelope Cashman, piano, gave us a concert that did exactly that. Hill is an Adelaide soprano who is equally at home on the operatic stage and in intimate chamber-music settings. She is a passionate performer of early music and has appeared as a recitalist around Australia. She has performed roles in Purcell’s “Dido & Aeneas”, roles in several Mozart operas, Schoenberg’s “Erwartung” and Handel’s “Saul”. Cashman is an Adelaide-based pianist, vocal coach, performer, teacher and researcher. As pianist and repetiteur, she has worked for the State Opera of SA, Opera Queensland and other companies here and overseas. The program commenced with a group of songs that focused on the relationship between music and poets. The first song, “If music be the food of love”, composed by Henry Purcell and arranged by Benjamin Britten, had words by Henry Heveningham. Bethany Hill sang it beautifully, her clear voice soaring with expression.

It was followed by Schubert’s “An Die Musik”, with words by Franz von Schober. This was the signature work of this concert and was sung with great feeling, enveloping the audience in the power and joy of music. “The son of the muses”, composed by Schubert to the words of Goethe, displayed Hill’s accurate singing and clear diction in this fast-paced song. Songs relating to nature and, particularly the beauty of flowers, followed in this well-planned concert. A group of three songs composed by Roger Quilter were haunting, reflective and wistful. Hill sang them all with a warmth and tenderness that was very appealing and Penelope Cashman’s accompaniment was excellent, especially in “The Wildflower’s Song”. Her heartfelt singing of “The Last Rose of Summer”, a traditional song arranged by Benjamin Britten, was one of the highlights of the concert. The clarity of Hill’s voice was then fully displayed with her gentle a cappella singing of “I’ll meet you there” by Australian composer, Jodie O’Regan. The final works by composers Erich Korngold and Leonard Bernstein showed the wide range of Hill’s vocal skills. Cashman’s playing of the final part of Korngold’s “Marietta’s Song” was particularly notable. This was the first time these performers have appeared for Art Song Canberra. Let’s hope they return for another concert as fine as this one.

Len Power
CityNews, December 13, 2020

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2019 reviews

‘Impressive’ singing on love and life

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

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

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

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

Len Power
CityNews, May 19, 2019

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Memorable afternoon of song

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

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

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

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

Len Power
CityNews, May 20, 2019

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Venus Unwrapped

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

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

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

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

Len Power
Canberra Critics Circle, June 24, 2019

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Research sets concert up for great success

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tony Magee
CityNews, June 24, 2019

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Pianist shines through music inspired by icons

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

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

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

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

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

Tony Magee
CityNews, August 19, 2019

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Iconic Inspiration

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

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

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

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

Len Power
Canberra Critics Circle, August 19, 2019

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L’Heure Exquise

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

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

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

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

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

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

Len Power
Canberra Critics Circle, September 23, 2019

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Exquisite guitar work accompanies soaring baritone Carbó

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tony Magee
Canberra Critics Circle, September 24, 2019

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Trio strum piano pieces in ‘rare’ concert

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

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

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

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

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

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

Helen Musa
Canberra CityNews, September 24, 2019

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Journey’s End

Journey’s End
Christina Wilson, mezzo-soprano, and Alan Hicks, piano, for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 24 November, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

Journey’s End was a well-chosen title for the final Art Song Canberra concert for 2019. A well-chosen romantic program of works by Duparc, Schumann, Debussy, Granados and Sculthorpe, it offered a sense of life, love and destiny that would have resonated differently for everyone in the audience. Performing to a near-capacity Art Song Canberra audience, husband and wife duo, Christina Wilson, mezzo-soprano, and Alan Hicks, piano, have a deservedly strong following in Canberra. They have also had busy international careers and teach at the ANU and the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. The program commenced with a striking performance of ‘L’Invitation au Voyage’ by Henri Duparc. A romantic and colourful work, it was sung with great appeal by Christina Wilson and Alan Hicks’ playing of the complex accompaniment was excellent. This was followed by all 12 songs of Robert Schumann’s song cycle, ‘Liederkreis Op. 39’ which was composed in 1840. These songs were set to the poems of Joseph von Eichendorff, a Prussian writer and poet of the era of Romanticism. The highly descriptive words give a strong sense of nature and its impact on the human condition and Schumann’s music is sublime. They were beautifully sung by Christina Wilson, especially the emotional “Intermezzo’, the haunting ‘Moonlit Night’ and ‘In A Castle’ with its disturbing undercurrents.

The second half of the program commenced with three ‘Songs of Bilitis’ by Debussy which were based on the 1894 collection of erotic poetry by Pierre Louÿs. Debussy’s music creates a romantic, slightly forbidding and fascinating world of emotion around these poems and they were sung with great feeling by Christina Wilson. ‘The tomb of the water-nymphs’ was especially enjoyable and Alan Hicks provided a particularly fine accompaniment as well. Moving from haunting and ethereal works to the more passionate works of Enrique Granados, Christina Wilson performed the three songs of ‘La maja dolorosa’ with an impressive emotional restraint that subtly and effectively displayed the passion behind the words. Four Shakespeare songs set by Peter Sculthorpe were then wistfully sung to complete this fine program. Christina Wilson is not only a superb singer technically, she also sings with great emotional depth and a clear understanding of the intent of the songs. Alan Hicks is a brilliant accompanist. Their performances together are not to be missed.

Len Power
Canberra Critics Circle, November 25, 2019

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Powerful performance until the ‘Journey’s End’

Journey’s End
Christina Wilson, mezzo-soprano, and Alan Hicks, piano, for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 24 November, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

Every concert is a journey, and the voyage in this concert crossed almost 200 years with the music of six distinctive composers taking the audience to a destination of intimate music. Opening with Henri Duparc’s “L’invitation au Voyage”, husband and wife team of Alan Hicks on piano and Christina Wilson mezzo-soprano set the audience adrift on a sea of gloriously performed art song. The flowing, floating music of Duparc subtly set up this concert of romanticism through song. While not told as a consecutive story, Robert Schumann’s “Liederkreis” Op. 39 is linked by love and lightness. The 12 songs in this cycle offered a sensitive portrayal of the romantic poems of Joseph Eichendorff, and the love that Robert and Clara Schumann had for one another. Every song had a high degree of intimacy and came across as a personal tribute. It was like the retelling of the relationship between Robert and Clara was being played out before this audience.

After the interval, moving forward around 50 years were Claude Debussy’s “Chansons de Bilitis”. These were based on mythology, imagination and a sensual mood. The transcendent sound of Debussy’s music, which at times was replete with a powerful tension and always with his suspension of sound, came across as light and playful as air. Going from the German to French for Wilson posed no problems with inflection or expression. She did seem more at home with the French; it was a powerful and passionate performance. “La Maja Dolorosa” by Enrique Granados from his 12 Tonadillas en estilo antiguo, represent a journey of loss, anger and sad memories through the three songs performed. The highly dramatic and dark sounds of the music of Granados filled the room with a tragic tale that was palpable in the ears and the heart. Even though part of the music was quirky with an odd repetitive motive, the songs and the performance remained telling and heart wrenching.

Back to the theme of love with Peter Sculthorpe’s lyrical “Four Shakespeare Songs”. Sculthorpe’s music could be said to be a mirroring of all the music that was previously played in this concert. These songs showed just how good and colourful Sculthorpe’s music is. The character of Australia shone through these songs. That laconic attitude and style attributed to Australian’s was clearly evident, even though the songs were set from Shakespeare’s plays. It is always a delight to hear Wilson sing and Hicks play. If it’s possible, they seem to be getting better. The concert ended with a tribute to music itself with a performance of Schubert’s, “An die Musik” – To the Music.

Rob Kennedy
Canberra CityNews, November 25, 2019

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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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Celebration!

Celebration!
Louise Page, soprano, and Phillipa Candy, piano, for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 25 November, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

There was a highly charged atmosphere in the packed-to-the-rafters Wesley Uniting Church for Art Song Canberra’s concert, ‘Celebration!’ After a 25 year partnership, singer Louise Page and pianist, Phillipa Candy, were giving their final concert together. As she is retiring from singing, it was the last opportunity to hear the beautiful soprano voice of Louise Page. She and Phillipa Candy brought the house down with a carefully chosen set of songs that they had loved and enjoyed over the years of their partnership.

The program started with two works by Purcell and Handel which Page sang with great feeling and technical skill. These were followed by ‘The Carnival of Venice’, a witty song that gave her the opportunity to let loose with some spectacular vocal fireworks. Two romantic works by Erich Korngold followed and were sensitively sung with an excellent accompaniment by Candy. A set of American Spirituals were next, including a quietly emotional ‘Deep River’ and the rousing ‘He’s Got the Whole World In His Hands’ brought the first half of the concert to a close.

The second half of the concert commenced with seven classical Spanish folk songs which were sung passionately and colourfully. The highlights were the hauntingly beautiful, ‘Con Amores, la mi madre’ (With love, oh mother of mine) and the very droll ‘Chiquitita la novia’ (A tiny bride). The complex musical accompaniment to these songs was handled seemingly effortlessly by Phillipa Candy.

A set of British folk songs followed including ‘I Will Walk With My Love’ in which Louise Page showed her fine acting ability. Three songs by Richard Strauss were next. Her sensitive singing of ‘Morgen’ was the highlight of the concert and Candy’s accompaniment was superb, especially the long introduction. The concert finished with ‘Con te partirò’, (Time To Say Goodbye). Always a highly emotional song with its soaring melody, it had even more significance for this audience as the concert drew to a close. Two encores followed and the audience honoured these two brilliant artists with a much-deserved standing ovation. This was a truly thrilling celebration!

Len Power
Canberra Critics Circle, 26 November, 2018

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Emotional ovation praises Page into retirement

Celebration!
Louise Page, soprano, and Phillipa Candy, piano, for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 25 November, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

With not a single vacant seat in the house, and, by the end, barely a dry eye, soprano, Louise Page, and accompanist, Phillipa Candy, ended their more than 25 years’ artistic partnership in presenting art song, as Page, venturing into retirement, eased her much-loved voice into silence a final time. Peppered with stories of their partnership, the program Page and Candy presented showed their legendary versatility. They had their audience laughing at one minute, and in awe-struck, breathless silence the next. Page’s voice soared with beauty and gentleness at one minute, lofty power the next, and mischief after that. Candy, all the while playing with consummate skill, gave Page understated support.

To paraphrase the lyrics from the opening song, Purcell’s wistful “Music for a While”, from the incidental music to the play, “Oedipus”, Page and Candy beguiled away any cares the audience had, paving the way for an engaging afternoon of superb music-making. There were vocal gymnastics in “The Carnival of Venice”, often associated with the popular song lyrics “My hat, it has three corners; Three corners has my hat”, or even “How Much is that Doggie in the Window?”. Their recording, titled “Eternity”, featuring the song cycles of Erich Korngold got a nod with two profoundly beautiful songs, “Was du mir bist” (“What are You to Me”), and “Welt ist stille eingeschlafen” (“The World Quietly Slumbers”). Another tangent found Page and Candy in a set of American spirituals such as an emotion-charged “Deep River”, and a quirky arrangement of “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” by Margaret Bonds, one of the first African-American composers and performers to be recognised in the US.

Then it was across the Atlantic to Spain, for even more diversity in seven classical Spanish songs. The English translation for the last of them was “A tiny bride, | A tiny groom, | A tiny parlour | And a bedroom. | That’s why I want | A tiny bed | and a mosquito net.” But don’t be fooled by the words – this was Spanish flamenco at its very best, with Page getting well and truly into the mood. The only thing missing were the castanets. Some British folk songs and three songs by Richard Strauss took the audience to the finale, delivered with a warmth and sincerity that surely had people reaching for hankies. To her career-supporting husband, Page dedicated her performance of “Con te partirò” (“With you I shall leave”), perhaps better known as “Time to Say Goodbye”.

With the last notes barely fading in the reverberation, the audience, as one, stood to give these two treasures of Canberra’s arts community an emotional standing ovation. Multiple curtain calls demanded two encores, one from an opera by Korngold and then, to finish, really, finally, Flanders & Swann’s “A Word on my Ear (I’m Tone Deaf)”, delivered with trademark hilarity from both artists. Canberra will miss Louise Page’s fluid voice, along with her bubbly personality, gracious generosity, and versatile repertoire. But, equally, Canberra will wish her well in her well-earned retirement.

Clinton White
CityNews, 26 November, 2018

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2017 reviews

Dangerous Romantics

Dangerous Romantics
Christina Wilson, mezzo-soprano, and Alan Hicks, piano, for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 26 February, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

With the ‘House Full’ sign up for ‘Dangerous Romantics’, Art Song Canberra’s first concert for 2017, husband and wife duo, mezzo-soprano, Christina Wilson, and pianist, Alan Hicks, were greeted by the large audience with a huge round of applause and cheers as they came onstage. As the audience settled down, Christina Wilson acknowledged the extraordinary greeting but pointed out with great humour, ‘We haven’t done anything yet!’ They went on to give a well thought out concert that was melodic, emotionally moving and very entertaining. ‘Dangerous Romantics’ presented a set of songs based on poems by Lord Byron, Paul Verlaine and Percy Bysshe Shelley, all of whom left a trail of broken hearts and worse in their romantic lives. The poems were set to music by classic and contemporary composers. Christina Wilson set the scene for each set of songs with clear and very interesting information about the poets and the composers.

The concert opened with a melancholy set of poems by Shelley with music by Australia’s Frederick Septimus Kelly and was sensitively sung by Christina Wilson with a fine accompaniment by Alan Hicks. This was followed with three poems by Byron with music by Australia’s Graeme Koehne. The highlight of this set was the third song – ‘She Walks In Beauty’ – which Wilson sang with great feeling. All three pieces were notable for their fine and unusual piano arrangements which were played exceptionally well by Alan Hicks. A major part of the program featured songs by Faure, DuBoscq, Hahn, Debussy and Vaughn Williams based on the poems of France’s Paul Verlaine. It was particularly interesting to be able to hear some of the same poems set to music by different composers. Highlights were Faure’s ‘Muted’ with Wilson’s voice floating gloriously above the accompaniment and ‘Exquisite Hour’ by Reynaldo Hahn which was hauntingly beautiful and very well sung and played.

‘Love’s Philosophy’, a poem by Shelley with music by Roger Quilter was a perfect choice for the concert’s finale, summing up the strong feelings of romance – the joy, the hopes and fears. It was movingly sung by Christina Wilson. This was a fine concert by two very accomplished and, judging by the audience reaction, much admired performers.

Len Power
Canberra Critics Circle, February 27, 2017

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An intense, emotional performance

Dangerous Romantics
Christina Wilson, mezzo-soprano, and Alan Hicks, piano, for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 26 February, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

THIS concert featured two artists who are impeccably partnered. They brought together romantic music and poetry in an intense, emotional performance. For an exquisite hour and a half, the music of Debussy, Fauré, Vaughan Williams, Reynaldo Hahn, Frederick Septimus Kelly, Roger Quilter and Graeme Koehne, combined with the verse of poets Shelley, Byron and Verlaine, captured the audience at the Wesley Music Centre. Christina Wilson and Alan Hicks have been in a musical relationship for about 25 years, just slightly longer than this husband and wife duo have been together. Their clear understanding of each other shows in their professional stagecraft communication.

The idea for the concert was to find and perform beautiful music and romantic poetry, Hicks says. Throughout the concert, Wilson’s singing prowess was fused with a great story-telling ability. Between songs, she kept the audience enthralled with her knowledge of these dangerous poets’ antics. Frederick Septimus Kelly’s melodic and charming music set to Shelley’s poems began the concert. The works of another Australian composer, Graeme Koehne followed. His languid and quirky style was most effective in his setting of three poems by Byron. Pianist Hicks handled these pieces, particularly well. Wilson’s mezzo-soprano voice, clear and decided, especially in its lower register, brought the music of Fauré and the poetry of Verlaine alive with colour and subtlety in the next four songs. The performers charmed everyone in the following set with the music of one of the greatest songwriters of his time, Reynaldo Hahn (1874-1947). These pieces arranged to some of Verlaine’s poetry. The audience let out a sigh at the end of “L’heure exquise” (The exquisite hour).

The pair performed with a richness and warmth throughout the concert. They did an excellent job at handling Debussy’s dark and light songs of Verlaine’s poetry. The impressionist’s music, well-balanced in its playfulness and idiosyncrasies, is always a crowd-pleaser. In Shelley’s poems, “Music when soft voices die” and “Love’s Philosophy”, set to music by English composer Roger Quilter (1877-1953), gave us what we thought was the final set of this beautiful and romantic combination of music and verse. Then, out for an encore, Wilson and Hicks performed a short song of Byron’s poem, “So we’ll go no more a roving”, arranged from the 1964 Joan Baez version. The Wesley Music Centre overflowed with people who warmly appreciated the talents of Wilson and Hicks. Many read along to every poem in the program.

Rob Kennedy
CityNews, February 27, 2017

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Music with a breath of fresh air

A Breath of Fresh Air
Sally Wilson, mezzo-soprano, and Mark Kruger, piano, for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 2 April, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

A PROGRAM of songs by Kurt Weill, Alban Berg, Arnold Schoenberg, Richard Strauss and others doesn’t immediately conjure up the feeling of a breath of fresh air, but mezzo-soprano, Sally Wilson, and piano accompanist, Mark Kruger gave us exactly that. Commencing with three songs by Kurt Weill, Sally Wilson immediately demonstrated her ability as a cabaret singer, both in voice and in performance. A very expressive performer, she created believable characters and sang confidently and with great technical skill.

Sally Wilson has performed in opera, concert, chamber music, classical cabaret and recital around the world and in Australia for the past twenty years. Her performance in “The Coronation Of Poppea” with the Victorian Opera gained her a Green Room Award nomination. Born in Ipswich, Mark Kruger is a laureate of the Orleans International Piano Competition and his performances have been acclaimed around the world. The second set of songs was by Gabriel Fauré. Sally Wilson is particularly effective with songs that describe inner feelings and the dream-like songs were hauntingly sung. These were followed by several early songs by Alban Berg with the theme of nature. “Night”, “Crown Of Dreams” and “Summer Days” were the highlights of this set and the piano accompaniment by Mark Kruger was particularly fine.

The remainder of the program continued to surprise and delight with its variety from Gershwin to Satie, more Weill, Richard Strauss, Schoenberg and even Michel Legrand. Every song was a fine showcase for Sally Wilson’s beautiful voice. There’s a lot of power there when the song demands it but she is also able to sing with great delicacy and feeling. Art Song Canberra always presents performers of a high calibre but, with the performances of Sally Wilson and Mark Kruger, this concert can only be described as extraordinary.

Len Power
CityNews, April 3, 2017

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Superb voices tested by mixed program

In An Elemental Mood
Sonia Anfiloff, soprano, Ben Connor, baritone and Alan Hicks, piano, for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 23 July, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

In Art Song Canberra’s latest concert, soprano Sonia Anfiloff and baritone Ben Connor utilised the elements of earth, air, fire and water as a theme for the afternoon’s program of songs. With the movie “The Fifth Element” in mind, they included another element, “Love”, to round out the program. Both singers have superb voices but adhering to the theme of the concert resulted in a choice of songs that, in the first half, lacked variety and interest. There were songs by eminent composers such as Samuel Barber, Hugo Wolf and Gabriel Faure, but the singers chose mostly dramatic, emotional works that were too similar to each other.

The second half began with songs by Tchaikovsky and these were the highlight of the concert, giving the singers the opportunity to show the various aspects of their fine voices. “A Love from Beyond the Grave” suited Ben Connor’s rich baritone perfectly and Sonia Anfiloff’s performance of “Lullaby” was hauntingly beautiful. Alan Hicks’ piano accompaniment for this song was especially fine. The final section of the program contained songs from Broadway, the movies and operetta. They were sung very well technically, but there seemed to be little attempt to project the meaning behind the songs. “Love For Sale” by Cole Porter needs an edge of cynicism to work and operetta duets will only soar emotionally for an audience if the characters non-verbally display their feelings for each other as well.

In the encore, “My Song Of Love” from the operetta “White Horse Inn”, the singers relaxed and their spontaneous interaction with each other made the song really come alive.

Len Power
CityNews, July 24, 2017

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Talented Julia turns on the warmth

Songs Jessye’s Sung
Julia Wee, soprano, and Lucus Allerton, piano, for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 3 September, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

THE Jessye Norman concert I saw at the Adelaide Festival Theatre back in the 1970s was memorable, not so much for the singer’s voice, which was stunning, but for her disappointing remoteness with the audience. She came, she sang, she went. Luckily for us, Julia Wee, in her Art Song Canberra concert, “Songs Jessye’s Sung”, established an immediate, genuine rapport with her audience. Her voice does remind you of Jessye Norman and it was a great idea to use that quality with a concert of songs associated with that singer. Commencing with a stirring “La Marsellaise”, Julia Wee entered in costume through the audience and set the mood immediately with a description of her first time seeing Jessye Norman in Paris on television singing that song. She followed this with a group of African American spirituals, of which “Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child” was a standout. She invested the song with a strength and emotion that was very moving.

The highlights of the concert were her performances of Mahler’s “Songs of a Wayfarer” and “Four Last Songs” by Richard Strauss. Her singing of the “Wayfarer” song, “I Walked Across the Fields This Morning”, was exceptional – clearly sung and obviously heartfelt. She gave a well-thought out, dramatic performance of the third of the “Four Last Songs” – “I Have A Red-Hot Knife” – and the piano accompaniment for this work by Lucus Allerton was especially fine. She was impressive in her singing of the quiet emotion of the final song, “The Two Blue Eyes of My Darling”.

Her encore, Cole Porter’s “With A Song In My Heart”, was offered, she said, to lift our mood after the sadness of the Strauss songs. With arms outstretched as she sang, she embraced her audience once more with a warmth that we willingly shared with her.

Len Power
CityNews, September 4, 2017

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Lovely concert of ‘night’ music

Night Songs
Jill Sullivan, mezzo-soprano, Robert Harris, viola and Alan Hicks, piano, for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 15 October, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

Jill Sullivan has performed throughout Australia and has an extensive concert, chamber and recital repertoire. This concert was her first appearance for Art Song Canberra. She sang songs with a night theme that showed the full range of her beautiful mezzo-soprano voice and she was accompanied on piano by frequent Art Song performer, Alan Hicks. They were joined for certain pieces by violist, Robert Harris. Sullivan sang songs by a wide range of composers including Handel, Schubert, Brahms, Mahler, Debussy and Respighi. She gave particularly interesting introductions to each of the groups of songs.

The concert commenced with Handel’s “O sleep” from “Semele”, which she sang with great sensitivity. She followed this with two songs by Franz Schubert, “Night and Dreams” and “The Wanderer’s Night Song”, giving both a hauntingly beautiful quality. Next on the program were two songs for contralto and viola with piano by Johannes Brahms. Sullivan gave a deeply reflective and moving performance of these songs and the viola accompaniment by Robert Harris was superb. The combination of piano, voice and viola made the second song, “Sacred Lullaby”, one of the highlights of the concert.

Other highlights included “At Midnight” by Hugo Wolf, a highly atmospheric piece that was sung by Sullivan with great feeling, Debussy’s “Beautiful Evening”, “Dearest Night” by Bachalet and the delightful final song of the program, “Where Flamingoes Fly” by Spoliansky. Robert Harris and Alan Hicks played two sets of music for viola and piano only, starting with two pieces from Shubert’s “Die Winterreise”, transcribed for viola by Roger Benedict. In the second half of the concert they played two songs from “Five Popular Argentinian Songs” by Alberto Ginastera, which had a restrained passionate edge that was quite thrilling. Both sets of songs were played extremely well.

Although all of the songs presented had a night theme, it was a concert of great variety that was stimulating and musically satisfying and enjoyable.

Len Power
CityNews, October 16, 2017

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And then the composer turned up…

Why do they shut me out of heaven?
Susan Ellis, soprano, and Dianna Nixon, piano and voice, for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 26 November, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

A program with texts by Patrick White, Mary Gilmore and Emily Dickinson might sound like it could be a bit heavy-going, but, combined with the music of Peter Sculthorpe, Vincent Plush and Aaron Copland and the fine singing of Susan Ellis and piano and dialogue accompaniment by Dianna Nixon, the audience was treated to a memorable concert. “Patrick White Fragments”, with music by Peter Sculthorpe was first performed in 2009 as part of “The Voss Journey”. It’s a sensuous, delicate short work that was sung by Susan Ellis with great precision.

It was a rare opportunity to hear “The Plaint of Mary Gilmore” song cycle by Vincent Plush. A famous Australian now known to most of us only as a portrait on the $10 note, Mary Gilmore had a colourful life, which the song cycle describes in great detail. Vincent Plush has produced a major work in which the music is woven around the texts of Gilmore’s letters, describing three distinct periods of her life. Susan Ellis captured the forthright character of this fascinating woman extremely well in her vocal performance. Dianna Nixon provided strong piano and dialogue accompaniment and she was joined on piano by Tilda Blackbourn-Rooney for a well-played short sequence requiring four hands. It was a surprise to discover that the composer, Vincent Plush, was in the audience. He advised us that he had not heard a performance of his complete song cycle in more than 30 years. It’s a work that should be performed more often.

In the second half of the program, Susan Ellis sang the “Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson” with music by Aaron Copland. The unique language of one of America’s greatest poets fit beautifully with Copland’s music giving a sense of the country and its people in the mid-1800s. Susan Ellis gave a hauntingly sensitive and emotionally honest performance of this work, completing an enjoyable afternoon concert.

Len Power
CityNews, November 27, 2017

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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

No reviews from 2014

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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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