Music / CIMF Concert 21: “The Art of Speech: Australian Rhetoric in Music”. At the National Gallery, Sunday, May 7. Reviewed by ROB KENNEDY
QUESTIONS were asked. There was Thomas Tallis’ song, “Why fum’th in fight?” There were lots in Andrew Ford’s “Waiting for the Barbarians”, like “[Why do] politicians sit there and do nothing?” Handel’s question, “Why do the nations so furiously rage together?” was posed. And they all were linked across six centuries.
Thomas Tallis’ song got a very finely controlled, tuned and balanced rendition by The Song Company, The Australian Voices and Luminescence Chamber Singers, singing a capella and very ably conducted by the Song Company’s artistic director, Antony Pitts.
It was so good it morphed seamlessly from 16th century Tallis to Ford’s complex and at times atonal song, an early 20th century Greek poem about the people capitulating to the barbarians, translated, modernised, and set to 21st century music.
Then another piece by Ford – “The Unquiet Grave”, based on an English folk song and scored for solo viola (Florian Peelman) and orchestra. Florian’s father, Roland conducted with extraordinary control, his marionette-like arms drawing out every nuance with flamboyant definition. The orchestra responded to his every intricacy, creating some amazing sounds.
Florian, as soloist, gave a highly-nuanced interpretation, especially in the intriguing passage involving very light fingering and micro-tremolo bowing through a subtle diminuendo to almost no sound and then a crescendo.
The composer was very pleased with the performance.Next was Roger Smalley’s “Footwork (A Birthday Tango)”, for string orchestra. A strong tango theme made way for a fantasy, with only subtle hints of the familiar tango rhythm, finally returning to the opening theme. Peelman was exceptional, producing free-flowing music from the orchestra, unimpeded by strictness, but governed by precision.
Another exceptional performance, again with string orchestra, was Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis”, indeed the theme for the earlier song. Peelman drew out a beautifully warm sound, remaining faithful to the unique sound that Vaughan Williams’ music creates.
The second half was music of Handel, beginning with the aria “Why do the Nations” from “Messiah”. On period instruments, the small chamber orchestra provided excellent backing, under Peelman’s direction, for bass-baritone, Jeremy Kleeman.
Kleeman was superb, filling the space with assured, powerful singing, including beautifully controlled melismas.
Peelman then fronted the full orchestra and the Bach Akademie Australia choir for “Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne”, a secular cantata, which Handel wrote when he was 28. Soloists were from the choir, and all sang with lovely tone and pitch. Some did not quite have the power to fill the hall, but did not detract from this splendid reading, which was a fitting end to a very enjoyable concert.