music / Canberra Symphony Orchestra Recital Series, with Julian Smiles and Dimity Hall, Wesley Uniting Church, Forrest, July 15. Reviewed by CLINTON WHITE
THE second of 2017’s “The Flowers Of War” concerts is an opera called “The Healers”, devised and directed by Christopher Latham. It has been created substantially from music by female composers such as the sisters Lili and Nadia Boulanger and Cecile Chaminade and also includes music from male serving composers who were wounded or killed, such as E.J. Moeran, Georges Antoine, Andre Devaere, Fernand Halphen, Arthur Bliss, Ivor Gurney and Australia’s Frederick Septimus Kelly.
It tells the story through music of the love between a Flemish nurse and a dying Australian soldier, and includes two historical French figures, Maurice Jaspart, a young clarinettist who lost his arm serving at Verdun, and the composer, Joseph Boulnois, who served as an orderly, dying from the Spanish Flu, three weeks shy of the Armistice.
Performed in low lighting to create an atmosphere of a field hospital lit mostly by hurricane lamps, the acoustic of the High Court added a haunting, dream-like quality to the show. Singers, Andrew Goodwin, tenor, and Simone Riksman, soprano, gave fine performances as the wounded soldier and the Belgian Nurse.
The music was beautifully performed by Christopher Latham, violin, David Pereira, cello, and Caroline Almonte, piano, with additional performances in some pieces by Tom Azoury as the amputee Maurice Jaspart and Catherine McCorkill, both on clarinet.
There was some awkwardness in the occasional moments of spoken dialogue by the musicians. The simple hospital setting with red poppies strewn on the floor, the nurses in white uniforms dotted amongst the audience and the low lighting created a fine sense of time and place. The linking dialogue was unnecessary.
A sense of opera was achieved most effectively during the set of songs by Lili Boulanger, Ivor Gurney and Frederick Septimus Kelly when the soldier and the nurse declared their feelings for each other through the songs.
This was a very moving evening of music and a fitting tribute to the composers, soldiers and nurses of the World War One period to whom we owe so much.