Review / CIMF Concert 15, ‘El Camino’

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THE Camino is not just a walking track; it is an epic journey – a pilgrimage. Some who set out might do it for religious enlightenment. Others might be looking for personal achievement. Still others just for the sheer pleasure of experiencing Spain’s culture and people, avoiding the freneticism of daily life.

This concert certainly was a pilgrimage, exploring music from 13th, 19th and 20th century Spain, through 20th century Finland to the world premiere of a work by Australian composer, Gerard Brophy, written just this year.

The Song Company, augmented by guest vocalists, all directed by the ebullient, energetic Roland Peelman, along with guest artists, guitarist José Maria Gallardo del Rey and members of the impressive Tambuco Percussion held the large audience enthralled through every offering in the programme.

Three cantigas, or medieval monophonic (unison) songs, drawn from a huge collection compiled or perhaps even written by Alfonso X el Sabio, showed the choir in magnificent control, taking us seemingly to some monastery high in the Pyrenees.

They maintained perfect pitch with no instrumental accompaniment apart from very tastefully-played rhythmic bodhrán-like drums.

Taking centre stage, Gallardo del Rey transported us well and truly to his Spanish heartland with traditional flamenco music, his hands flying effortlessly across the guitar strings and playing with an empathy only a native Spaniard could deliver.

Then it was off to Finland and the extraordinary music from the pen of Einojuhani Rautavaara. His “Lorca Suite” from 1973 has Spanish influences, but is full of the musical imagery and imagination for which Rautavaara is so well-known. Once again The Song Company was in complete control in this quite difficult work, especially in the second movement “El grito”, which translates in both language and musical intent to “The Scream”. The final movement “Malagueña”, with its guitar-like motifs, led quite neatly into another brilliant segment from Gallardo del Rey, featuring music by Spanish composers Isaac Albéniz, Manuel De Falla and Frederico Moreno Torroba.

Concluding the program was Brophy’s new piece “Canticles”, with three movements:

“¿Hasta cuándo?” (“How long?”, from Psalm 13), “Para Todas” (“For Everything”, from Ecclesiastes 3) and “Balat Lament” (in fact a piece of Turkish graffiti about loss, burning and crying). The Song Company was joined on stage by Gallardo del Rey and members of Tambuco Percussion, playing two vibraphones.

Sitting next to Brophy I asked him before the concert began whether he was nervous about his piece. He replied, “No”. And well might he have been so confident, for this performance did this very fine work great credit. In Brophy’s own programme notes, he had decided not to focus much on the Camino walk but more on the “broader emotional matters … hope, abandonment, loss, the gaining of wisdom and a reflection on the mysterious nature of prayer itself”.

The work certainly explores all those emotions and more. And instead of finishing with a flourish, ends with the music gradually fading away to nothing, as if the Camino pilgrims, satisfied in their newfound spiritual awareness disappeared into the distance. It was very moving and had the audience breathless and spellbound.

A long, silent pause then rapturous applause erupted, expressing perhaps an audience deeply refreshed and renewed.

[Photo by Peter Hislop]

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