Review / Talented Julia turns on the warmth

Music / “Songs Jessye’s Sung”, Art Song Canberra, Julia Wee, soprano and Lucus Allerton, piano, Wesley Music Centre, September 3. Reviewed by LEN POWER

Julia Wee sings Jessye Norman. Photo by Peter Hislop

THE Jessye Norman concert I saw at the Adelaide Festival Theatre back in the 1970s was memorable, not so much for the singer’s voice, which was stunning, but for her disappointing remoteness with the audience.  She came, she sang, she went.

Luckily for us, Julia Wee, in her Art Song Canberra concert, “Songs Jessye’s Sung”, established an immediate, genuine rapport with her audience. Her voice does remind you of Jessye Norman and it was a great idea to use that quality with a concert of songs associated with that singer.

Commencing with a stirring “La Marsellaise”, Julia Wee entered in costume through the audience and set the mood immediately with a description of her first time seeing Jessye Norman in Paris on television singing that song.

She followed this with a group of African American spirituals, of which “Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child” was a standout. She invested the song with a strength and emotion that was very moving.

The highlights of the concert were her performances of Mahler’s “Songs of a Wayfarer” and “Four Last Songs” by Richard Strauss.

Her singing of the “Wayfarer” song, “I Walked Across the Fields This Morning”, was exceptional – clearly sung and obviously heartfelt.

She gave a well-thought out, dramatic performance of the third of the “Four Last Songs” – “I Have A Red-Hot Knife” – and the piano accompaniment for this work by Lucus Allerton was especially fine.  

She was impressive in her singing of the quiet emotion of the final song, “The Two Blue Eyes of My Darling”.

Her encore, Cole Porter’s “With A Song In My Heart”, was offered, she said, to lift our mood after the sadness of the Strauss songs. With arms outstretched as she sang, she embraced her audience once more with a warmth that we willingly shared with her.

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