Review: Lesser-known songs, ‘concentrated perfection’

Share Canberra's trusted news:

WITH a title like “Yes, but do you know…?”, it was somewhat inevitable that in introducing the program, soprano Sarahlouise Owens should add the words, “well may you ask.”

Soprano Sarahlouise Owens
Soprano Sarahlouise Owens

For in reality this diverting concert was conceived when Owens and the veteran pianist Colleen Rae-Gerrard got talking about works for voice and piano that were rarely heard.

When they knew they could easily bring in Rae-Gerrard’s forte piano, affectionately nicknamed Constanze, (presumably after Mozart’s wife), the pair decided to try and approximate the sound originally sought by composers like Haydn and Mozart.

The concert began modestly with two evocative songs by Mozart, performed with some restraint by Owens. But she really got going in Haydn’s passionate cantata “Arianna a Naxos”, especially in the recitative and dramatic aria sections. Here it was clear that Owens is at her best expressing the stronger feelings of drama and opera.

There followed two simple but beautiful songs by Canberra composer Calvin Bowman, the second of which, “The Early Morning,” was dedicated by Bowman to Rae-Gerrard’s late husband Michael Grafton- Green.

Both artists captured the unique mix of regret and optimism in three lieder by Erich Korngold, completing the first half of the concert with seven Moravians folk songs by Martinu described by Owens as “like jewels – concentrated perfection.”

The second and more ambitious second half of this program began with a series of extrapolations from Goethe’s famous novel “Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship”, focusing on the tragic girl Mignon.

The opening part of this segment consisted of Schubert’s ‘Mignon’ songs performed on Constanze and beginning with the celebrated song “Kennst du das Land” (Do you know the land?) Where the buck abducted girl expresses her wish to run away. Owens rose to the expressiveness of Schubert in the songs, which were succeeded by a lesser-known version of “Kennst du das Land” and concluding with a passionate rendition by Owens of French composer Henri du Parc’s “Romance de Mignon (Do you know the land).

The most intriguing part of the concert intellectually was the performance of three early songs by Benjamin Britten, which ranged from playful cheekiness to a brooding quality. Here the deceptive economy of Britten’s composition for the accompanist was beautifully captured by Rae-Gerrard.

The final part of the recital saw an intense performance of Berlioz’s “Mort d’Ophelie”, inspired by Shakespeare, and two songs by Verdi’s mentor, Saverio Mercandate. In the final piece, unfamiliar to most, Owens took on the role of an insinuating Spanish fortune-teller, once again whipping up the performance to operatic heights.

Who Can You Trust?

In a world beleaguered by spin and confused messages, there's never been more need for diverse, trustworthy, independent journalism in Canberra.

Who can you trust? Well, for more than 25 years, "CityNews" has proudly been an independent, free, family-owned news magazine, serving the national capital with quality, integrity and authority. Through our weekly magazine and daily through our digital platforms, we constantly and reliably deliver high-quality and diverse opinion, news, arts, socials and lifestyle columns.

If you trust our work online and believe in the power of independent voices, I encourage you to make a small contribution.

Every dollar of support will be invested back into our journalism so we can continue to provide a valuably different view of what's happening around you and keep free.

Click here to make your donation and you will be supporting the future of journalism and media diversity in the ACT.

Thank you,

Ian Meikle, editor

Previous articleYou have to work on the Monday after Anzac Day but it’s a special bus driver’s holiday
Next article‘A trapeze artist without a net’ – Wendy Sharpe draws refugees
Helen Musa
“CityNews” arts editor

Leave a Reply