music / Canberra Symphony Orchestra, ACTEWAGL Llewellyn Three, Llewellyn Theatre, July 18. Reviewed by GRAHAM McDONALD
The music in this concert focused on the artist’s journey through life’s sadness and joys. The songs were performed by David Greco baritone and John Martin on piano.
Beginning the concert with a selection of songs from the British Isles, they started with an alluring and sensitive song titled “King David” by Herbert Howells (1892-1983), which seemed to set the standard for an afternoon of songs that ranged from light to dark and everything in between, with a strong emphasis on melancholy.
Greco’s deep, clear and sensitive voice was matched by the rich and penetrating playing of Martin on piano, who turned out to be quite the entertainer as the concert progressed.
The other songs from the British Isles came from Roger Quiller (1877-1953), Ivor Quilter (1890-1937), Ivor Gurney (1890-1937), Henry Purcell (1659-1695) and Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958).
While this selection of songs ranged from a 300-year period, they blended together well as a program of connected tunes. The subtle expressions of Greco’s voice along with the intimate playing of Martin on piano made each song a unique experience. The song “In the black dismal dungeon of despair” by Purcell, arranged by Benjamin Britten, was as Greco said about the work, it’s about as dark as it gets. It sounded like the protagonist of the song ended up in the depths of hell.
During “Come away, come away death” by Quilter, Greco had to stop singing as his voice closed down on him. He explained that he’d had a cold recently it was still getting over it as he left the stage. While a remedy for Greco’s sore throat was being applied, Martin gave the audience a couple of piano solos and talked about his time touring with the English-Australian actress Miriam Margolyes and then played some Debussy they used in one of her shows.
After the interval, Greco was back on stage sounding almost like he never had a problem. Though it was clear his voice was still tentative, he pressed on for several songs from a selection of Schubert’s “Winterreise” (Winter Journey), even though he struggled slightly for the first few.
Then, as a bolt from the blue, he sprang back to a full-throated performance in Schubert’s song “Dream of Spring”. And then, on to an even stronger and more dynamic recital of the song “Solitude”, which was dark yet thrilling.
Greco discussed the final four songs with an in-depth knowledge of the Winterreise song cycle, and they were performed that way. The audience let the players know how much they enjoyed the concert and Greco’s stoic performance. But then, to the shock of this reviewer and I’m sure to the audience, they performed an encore. To come back and do this after having to go off stage earlier was a sign of great professionalism, proving the quality of both performers.