Music / “Death and the Maiden”, Alina Ibragimova and the Australian Chamber Orchestra. At Llewellyn Concert Hall, March 17. Reviewed by ROB KENNEDY
COMPOSER James Humberstone, librettist Nigel Featherstone, director Caroline Stacey, baritone Michael Lampard and pianist Alan Hicks have put together a dark and spellbinding tale of a soldier who has returned from his latest tour of Afghanistan.
Hicks sits at his piano in almost darkness, he plays a falling line of music and then, from the rear of the dimly lit stage, a high male voice penetrates the gloom with song. This is not just the setting for this song cycle, but also the atmosphere it creates for a sombre and disturbing story of what war does to people.
The narrative unfolds over a weekend. The titles of each of the 14 songs cover the memory and experience of this soldier, from a Friday afternoon to Sunday at noon when the soldier looks ahead to a time of healing and redemption.
From the inside of the piano, Hicks strikes the casing and soundboard with mallets as Lampard sings about heading down the Hume Highway towards his home farm in the Southern Highlands. In between playing the piano, Lampard and then Hicks wind what looks like a wire or a violin string around several strings on the piano, as they pull the wires up and down, a drone-like tune similar to that of a cello being bowed sounds, creating an ethereal effect.
As they move through the songs a sense of a person lost and wondering emanates through the music, the lyrics, and the strongly effective staging and lighting, all in a well thought out story that is touching and dramatic in every aspect.
The sound of Lampard’s singing and spoken voice, whether up in falsetto or deep into his baritone range, is perhaps the most effective aspect of the whole performance. At times, the piano sounded like many instruments through Hicks’ spirited playing and through either manipulating the piano with things such as wires and a sheet of plastic or paper that was placed on the strings. When Hicks played in the register where the article was sitting, it created a slightly percussive effect that also produced a high-pitched overtone, adding to the mysterious setting.
The set and costumes by Imogen Keen and the lighting design by Linda Buck, both play a substantial part in this performance. When what looks like a river of blood appears at the front of the stage, and with the percussive piano and Lampard singing and crying as he falls apart sent a chill up this reviewer’s spine.
The music ranged from melodious to just effect and also, when Lampard accompanied Hicks by tapping on a wooden box it almost when it to rock and roll territory. James Humberstone who composed the music has seemed to catch the nature of the struggles and the devastating effect that war must have on any soldier.
What this song cycle shows is that if there is anything good to come out of war, it is the beauty of creations such as “The Weight of Light”.