Review: The musical relationship between Canberra and Brazil

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The ensemble performs Peter Sculthorpe's “Song of Talitnama"
Canberra International  Music Festival Concert 15: “Bachiana Brasileiras: an exploration of the design of Brasilia”, accompanied by Brazilian works, Gallery of Australian Design, May 17.

In a short concert at the Gallery of Australian Design, preceded by a slide lecture from University of Canberra architecture lecturer David Flannery, the connections between Brazil and Australia, especially Canberra, were made manifest.

Flannery illustrated the connection between Canberra which in part inspired the architect of Brazil’s national capital, Lúcio Costa. We learnt that  it was once considered a waste of a good cattle station–the parallel with this city as sheep station were evident and there was no need for further comment. This was a well-judged and thoughtful lecture, not too long.

Festival director Christopher Latham followed, outlining Villa Lobos’s fascination with the indigenous viol ensembles that had grown out of  European  traditions. Even some of the South Americans in the audience today didn’t known that the great Brazilian composer Heitor Villa Lobos had named his most famous work, “Bachiana Brasileiras”, after Johann Sebastian Bach, but know it now.

The first item on the program, therefore, was his homage to Bach, “4 preludes and Fugues” performed by  the CIMF Cello Ensemble, surely one of the classiest “scratch” orchestras seen in a while and led by English conductor Andrew Mogrelia.

The connection between Australia and Brazil musically was made manifest in a dramatic , beautifully rendered performance of Peter Sculthorpe’s “Song of Talitnama”, where mezzo soprano Christina Wilson vocalised a melancholy chant and percussionists Michel Askill and Gary France threw themselves upon a large range of beatable objects and instruments. Sculthorpe  had an Aboriginal chant in mind for the vocalist’s part, but the connection with the celebrated Villas Lobos work  that followed was plain.

In the finale, the title work, “Bachiana Brasileiras No 5”, soprano Louise Page traversed the familiar sounds inspired by both Bach and an old Brazilian song, the Modinha, with joy and delicacy.

Christina Wilson and Louise Page at the GAD

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Helen Musa
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