SOMETIMES it’s hard being a critic. Imagine having to maintain focus on a picture-perfect Canberra day, cruising Lake Burley Griffin, while being aurally seduced by two of the most beautiful female voices in the country, surrounded by taste-tempting morsels displayed invitingly on crisp white tablecloths, while gazing at an indescribably spectacular autumnal view of the National Capital from the water.
The Amazing Space concerts are the jewels in the crown of the Canberra International Music Festival. These concerts are held in Canberra’s most iconic locations, in this case on the waters of Lake Burley Griffin commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the filling of the lake.
Jenny Goddard, representing the sponsors, ACTEW Water, welcomed guests aboard MV Southern Cross. As the cruise began it was announced that due to an unfortunate illness, star tenor, Christopher Saunders, had had to withdraw, necessitating a quick reshuffle of the announced program. As often happens, something lost can sometimes result in something gained and on this occasion, the other singers, Christina Wilson accompanied by Alan Hicks, and Louise Page accompanied by Phillipa Candy were able to come up with some superb additional repertoire to replace that scheduled, maintaining perfectly the theme of songs written during the world wars, including four songs by two early Australian composers Frederick Kelly and Roy Agnew.
Continuing a feature of 2014 Canberra International Music Festival, many of the songs were Australian premieres. Songs by little-known composers like Andre Caplet, Charles Sablon, Georges Antoine and Reynaldo Hahn made up much of the repertoire. One German composer, Fritz Jurgens, is so obscure, that not even the German Embassy could provide any information about him, but three of his songs, superbly sung by Louise Page, were among the highlights of the afternoon.
Other fascinating discoveries included two songs by Andre Caplet, “Farewell from a Boat” and “Forest”, the haunting “To Our Unknown Dead” by Reynaldo Hahn, and the melodic “The Song of the Croanne” with sardonic lyrics contradicting its cheerful tune, were all beautifully interpreted by Christina Wilson and Alan Hicks, as were Reynaldo Hahn’s five enchanting children’s songs performed by Louise Page and Phillipa Candy.
Sprinkled among these unknown gems were gorgeous versions of Norbert Schultze’ “Lilli Marlene”, Ivor Novello’s “We’ll Gather Lilacs” and a particularly moving version of “Danny Boy” sung as a duet by Louise Page and Christina Wilson.
Between the song selections members of the Australian Institute of Architects provided enthralling accounts of pertinent aspects of Canberra’s history. Stuart McKenzie spoke about the creation of Lake Burley Griffin. As we cruised past the wetlands, Dianne Firth revealed that trenches dug by soldier trainees during the war, can still be spotted by planes flying over the wetlands. As the boat drew up to the Kingston Foreshores wharf, Graham Humphries detailed the planning behind the foreshores development. Following which the passengers were treated to a jaunty performance of Handel’s “Water Music” by on-shore members of the Canberra Festival Brass, under the direction of Paul Goodchild.
While the vessel headed towards the National Carillion, Dianne Firth gave an enthralling account of the history of the Carillion, and shared a revealing tidbit that the concept for the structure was inspired by three Toblerone boxes. Then in glorious sunshine, passengers were treated to the world premiere of a new Ross Edwards composition “60,000 Bells; A Peal for the Fallen” commemorating the 60,000 soldiers killed in the world wars, which was given a spine-tingling performance by Didgeridoo player, William Barton together with Lyn Fuller and the National Carillonists.
Re-approaching Commonwealth Bridge, between more luscious musical offerings, Ann Cleary enthralled us with an explanation of the National Axis as the vessel was accurately positioned directly on it.
But too soon it was time to head back to shore and following some heartfelt thank-you’s from the Pro Musical Board President , Dorothy Danta, pianist Phillipa Candy delighted all by returning to the piano to accompany an impromptu rendition of “Auld Lang Syne” by the blissed-out passengers.
As you can imagine, given this critic’s low temptation threshold, this was a tough gig. But then someone has to do it.
[Photos by Peter Hislop]