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2024 reviews

Extraordinary musical salute to Oliver Raymond

Tribute to Oliver
Various performers, for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 25 February, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

For Oliver Raymond, the retiring president of Art Song Canberra, a tribute concert performed by an outstanding group of singers and their accompanists became an extraordinary celebration. Raymond has been president of Art Song Canberra continuously since 1995. Under his stewardship, the company has become one of Australia’s leading organisations devoted to the regular performance and wide appreciation of art song. Also retiring and being honoured at the concert was his wife, Helen Raymond, who has been Art Song’s long-serving secretary. The list of performers, all of whom have close ties, past and present, to Art Song Canberra, were representative of the high standard that the company’s audiences have come to enjoy over the years. Mezzo soprano Christina Wilson, with Alan Hicks at the piano, presented a wide-ranging group of songs by composers such as Schubert, Schumann, Grainger and Fauré. All were superbly sung with the highlights being To Music by Franz Schubert and the haunting How Sweet The Moonlight Sleeps by Michael Head. Wilson was then joined by soprano Sonia Anfiloff for two songs – The Night by Ernest Chausson and the famous Barcarole by Jacques Offenbach. Their blend of voices, particularly in the Barcarole, was one of the high points of the concert.

After the interval, the mezzo soprano, AJ America, with Roland Peelman accompanying on harpsichord, performed two songs by Monteverdi, one celebrating the joy of love and the other about unrequited love. America skilfully and beautifully brought out the emotions in both songs. Soprano Sonia Anfiloff, with Alan Hicks on piano, then performed songs by Henri Duparc, Samuel Barber, Michael Head and Robert Schumann. The power of her voice and her sensitive delivery of the emotions in the songs were outstanding. The highlight of her performance was Barber’s Sure On This Shining Night. The last performer was soprano Louise Page. Long associated with Art Song Canberra, she returned from retirement just for this concert. She was accompanied by Philippa Candy on piano and they performed five songs by Monique Carole-Smith, Fernando Obradors and Richard Strauss. Page’s voice and ability to deliver emotion and meaning in the songs were as remarkable as ever and it was wonderful to hear her voice again. Carole-Smith’s War Song and Strauss’s The Night and Dedication were the highlights of her performance. The concert finished with a call to the stage for Oliver and Helen Raymond. Surrounded by the performers who then sang Strauss’s Dedication to the couple, the full-house of audience members gave them a long and much-deserved standing ovation.

Len Power
Canberra CityNews, February 26, 2024

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Passionate recital of bitter-sweet romantic songs

Romantic Masters
Andrew Goodwin (tenor) and Roland Peelman (piano), for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 7 April, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

It was a grey autumn day and the leaves were falling from the trees around the Wesley Music Centre in Forrest – the perfect atmosphere for a recital of bitter-sweet romantic songs by Schumann, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff. In a well-balanced program, tenor Andrew Goodwin and pianist Roland Peelman took us on a romantic journey through Schumann’s Dichterliebe song cycle and five songs each by Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff. Peelman also performed Schumann’s Arabesque Op 18 and Skriabin’s Etude Op 2, No 1. Peelman first played Schumann’s Arabesque. This melodic, reflective and romantic work, beautifully played, set the mood for the rest of the recital. Composed in 1840, the 16 songs of Robert Schumann’s Dichterliebe (A Poet’s Love) were set to poems by German writer Heinrich Heine. These beautiful songs tell of the high and low points of a disappointed love, giving the singer an opportunity to express various emotions through the cycle. Goodwin gave a sensitive reading of the songs. He was particularly impressive in Im wunderschönen Monat Mai (In the wondrous month of May), his excitement as a young man falling in love was very real. The rapid Die Rose, die Lilie, die Taube, die Sonne (Rose, lily, dove, sun) showed his remarkably clear diction and, in Ich Grolle nicht (I bear no grudge) his passionate singing was very moving.

Goodwin studied singing at the St Petersburg State Conservatory in Russia and, with his ability in the Russian language, he was able to bring a strong depth of meaning to his performance of the songs by Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff. His moving performance of Why? by Tchaikovsky was outstanding and his wistful singing of Rachmaninoff’s Do you remember? was memorable. It was also fascinating to compare both Tchaikovsky’s and Rachmaninoff’s different settings of Tolstoy’s poem, Do Not Believe It, My Friend. Goodwin nicely brought out the turbulent emotions in the former and the victorious drama of the latter. Throughout, Peelman accompanied Goodwin superbly, bringing out all of the beauty and depth in these composers’ songs. His solo performances of Schumann’s Arabesque and Skriabin’s Etude were excellent. The concert concluded with an encore of Goodwin’s thrillingly passionate performance of L’ultima Canzone, a song by the Italian, Francesco Paolo Tosti and the perfect ending to a highly successful concert.

Len Power
Canberra CityNews, April 8, 2024

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Harp and voice confect ‘sublime’ concert

Anna Fraser (soprano) and Hannah Lane (harp), for Art Song Canberra
Sunday 19 May, 3pm. Wesley Music Centre

Dolcissimo explored the flowering of Italian vocal music in a program by composers of the late Renaissance through to the Baroque period. There were songs by Luzzaschi, Caccini, Rossi, Frescobaldi and others, played and sung by two eminent Baroque specialists – Anna Fraser, soprano and Hannah Lane on an Italian Baroque triple harp. Fraser is a versatile soprano specialising in the interpretation of early and contemporary vocal repertoire. She is a graduate of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music and the New England Conservatory (Boston) and regularly performs with the Bach Akademie Australia, Cantillation, Australian Haydn Ensemble, Salut! Baroque, Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Sydney Philharmonia Choirs and Ensemble Offspring. She also performed as a core ensemble member of the Song Company for more than 10 years. Lane is the leading Australian exponent of the Baroque harp. She studied in Milan, Italy, with renowned historical harpist Mara Galassi. Lane performs with leading ensembles throughout Australia and Europe, appearing at international festivals. She is a regular guest lecturer in historical harp at the University of Melbourne. Both artists gave informative and entertaining explanations of the music and songs they were performing. Lane explained that composers of that era were inspired by the virtuosity of the singer’s voice, giving their works an opulent ornamentation and layers of texture.

As well as accompanying the songs, Lane also performed works for the distinctive sound of the Baroque harp only dating back to the 16th and 17th century period. Fraser’s singing also captured the period delightfully. The emotions in the songs were conveyed by the intricate ornamentation, creating a fascinating, haunting and often dream-like effect. Combined with Lane’s playing of the harp, the overall effect was sublime. While every song and solo harp piece were impressive, two works stood out as highlights. Giulio Caccini’s Dolcissimo Sospiro (sweetest sigh) and Lasciatemi qui solo (Leave me here alone) composed by his daughter, Francesca Caccini. The level of emotion conveyed in these works was extraordinary. This atmospheric concert from Art Song Canberra was entertaining and highly memorable.

Len Power
Canberra CityNews, May 20, 2024

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