Review / ‘Memorable’ folk songs full of history and emotion

music / ‘What the Folk Sing’, Art Song Canberra, at Wesley Music Centre, September 9. Reviewed by LEN POWER

Christina Wilson sang confidently in Hungarian, Czech, German and Spanish as well as English… Photo by Peter Hislop

FOLK songs record the rich stories and histories of peoples everywhere – the social, emotional, and political.

Presented by Art Song Canberra, “What the Folk Sing” was a well-researched and memorably performed concert of folk songs by eminent composers such as Grainger, Bartók, Dvořák, Brahms, de Falla and Copland.

Covering such a wide range of folk songs from different countries presents the considerable challenge of singing in a variety of languages. Mezzo-soprano Christina Wilson sang confidently in Hungarian, Czech, German and Spanish as well as English. Alan Hicks provided expert accompaniment on piano with the variety of composers and their distinctive music.

Wilson’s performance was exceptional in all aspects. Her voice has a richness and clarity that is very appealing and she displayed a deep understanding of the intent of the chosen songs – nationalistic fervour, emotional passion, the humorous side of life, a sense of culture and time long vanished and the sorrow of lost love.

Commencing with songs by English composers, Wilson gave particularly beautiful and heart-felt performances of “The Bold Young Farmer” by Ralph Vaughan Williams, “Willow Willow” by Percy Grainger and “Barbara Allen” by Roger Quilter.

These were followed by two sets of songs by Hungarian Bela Bartók and Czech composer Antonín Dvořák. Wilson sang the emotional content of the Bartók songs with great control and warmth and with welcome flashes of humour.  

Hicks provided a memorable piano accompaniment throughout but especially for the fifth song. The Dvořák songs were notable for their portrayal of nationalistic pride and Wilson brought out this feeling with subtlety and realism.

The Spanish songs by de Falla were sung with passion and sensuality and contrasted nicely with the rich songs about love by Brahms.

Moving from Europe to America, the three different types of songs by Aaron Copland were very well sung. Wilson gave the lullaby, “The Little Horses”, an especially delicate and haunting quality.

The program concluded with a finely controlled emotional warmth for “Black, Black, Back is the Colour” by the more contemporary composer John Jacob Niles.

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