HELEN MUSA’s weekly arts column features opening concerts and shows in Canberra
HANDLED with a light and delicate touch by musical director Robyn Mellor and her ensembles Polifemy and Walking the Dog, this one-hour concert was mostly dedicated to the Italian madrigals of Elizabethan entrepreneur, publisher and composer, Thomas Morley.It was hard for Mellor to resist describing the presentation as “a luscious bouquet”, for this was a curated concert that followed the progress of love through its earliest stages and its setbacks, to a final positive fulfillment.
The opening songs represented the thrill of the chase, with lyrics like “Where art thou, wanton?” or “Whither away so fast, from me your true love approved?” and the lighter “love learning by laughing first to speak/then slyly gains cares passing great”.
While the concert opened with a brace of recorder songs by Anthony Holbourne, the larger part was performed by the women’s vocal group Polifemy (a feminist version of polyphony), which ably captured the lightness of the opening section. Morley’s approach is generally not polyphonic but rather a series of intricate overlapping phrases in the manner of a round. This throws the emphasis on the sophisticated technical skills of the singers rather than the content.The second, sadder part of the concert was more emotionally satisfying, as it represented a broader range of emotions. The title song and inspiration for this segment, “Cease Mine Eyes”, drawn from the famously gloomy John Dowland’s song “Cease Mine Eyes, Cease Your Lamenting” was performed by Walking the Dog with a range of tenor and bass recorders, dramatic and melancholy.
But, finishing on a positive note it was the final song “Arise, Get Up My Dear”, which saw the ensemble at its full strength, aptly matching the multifaceted music composed for this song by Morley.
This was a refined and sensitive concert, well suited to the autumnal season and to the reflective atmosphere of the Centre for Christianity and Culture. A thoughtful feature was the presentation of the lyrics, printed in the program for all to read.