Review / Music goes on a ‘grief-stricken’ journey

music / “1917: The Night is Darkest before the Dawn”, in Flowers of War, High Court of Australia, November 8. Reviewed by CLINTON WHITE.

“Flowers of War”. Photo by Peter Hislop.

MOST people have been to ANZAC commemorative services at one time or another. Dawn services – the hymns, the ode, the Last Post – they all serve as a reminder, in a very moving way, of the sacrifices of the courageous servicemen and servicewomen in defending our country and freedom.

But this concert did more. It took me there. It took me to 1917 and the vast, boggy fields of Flanders and the Somme. It took me to the muddy trenches, the freezing snow and slush, the smell of gunfire and death pervading every nostril, every pore of the skin.

As mezzo, Christina Wilson, sang Christopher Latham’s words in Elena Kats-Chernin’s “Lacrimosa: The Fields of Bullecourt”. During this piece I was able to walk with the distraught, grief-stricken mother on a heart-wrenching pilgrimage in search of her son’s body, lost on the battlefield, laying unidentified.

This concert allowed its audience to feel the hardships, but also the victories – the AIF 5th Brigade band marching through the ruins of the Grande Place of Bapaume in 1917, as trumpeter, Paul Goodchild, played Alex Lithgow’s “Victoria March”, or the Light Horse Brigade galloping over the Turkish trenches at Beersheba in Richard Mills’ “Charge at Beersheba”.

And all the while, the sun, slowly sinking into the west, cast an eerie, blurry shadow of the Australian flag, seemingly waving a long-gone soldier’s wave in the whispering breeze, onto the vast concrete wall in the High Court, overlooking the musicians and audience. It was a ghostly, poignant reminder of what soldiers fought for in the war to end all wars, as the audience immersed itself in music written during or for the most terrible years of that conflict. It seemed somehow right that the sun – and the shadow – should fade away when soprano, Louise Page, began to sing Benjamin Dale’s “Come Away Death”, written when he was a POW in 1917/18.

As if a benediction, the concert closed with Latham’s own composition “Pie Jesu” from “The Diggers’ Requiem”.  It’s a prayer for peace in music, as Latham says, “written for an audience to sing with the accompaniment of fine musicians, as we hold together in our hearts the wish for peace”.

And fine musicians they were. As well as those already mentioned, there was pianist, Timothy Young, percussionist, Timothy Brigden and the Sculthorpe String Quartet, of which Latham is director.

In the presence of the chief justice, and the Governor-General and his wife, these superb musicians presented a very moving concert of thought-provoking music in a most carefully and thoughtfully assembled programme.

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