“JS Bach & GF Handel”, Canberra Sinfonia. At Wesley Uniting Church, December 15. Reviewed by CLINTON WHITE
Photos of The Song Company by PETER HISLOP
DREAMS and time were the central themes of this the fourth program of The Song Company’s 2017 season, and it left its mark.
Beginning in almost total darkness, and counterintuitively to the title of the first work by Australian composer Alice Chance, “And the Lord said, Fiat Lux” (let there be light), this stirring and emotional work, which was played on tape and recorded in the Crypt of St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney, set the tone for this inventive and entertaining concert.
The singers on the night were Anna Fraser, soprano, Alexandria Siegers, alto, Robert Macfarlane, tenor and Andrew O’Connor, bass. Antony Pitts conducted, and he is the director and a composer.
Out of the darkness the singers entered the stage and began an arrangement of GF Handel’s “The People that Walked in Darkness”, this was followed by another arrangement of Handel’s “Zadok the Priest opening chorus”. The “Zadok the Priest” arrangement while sung with the high standard that The Song Company is known for, did remind me of a commercial for Microsoft, such was its light and playful character.
Steve Reich’s “Clapping Music” is exactly what its title suggests. Set to a short, broken eight-note rhythm and clapped by the soprano and the conductor, added to the inventiveness of the concert, but was it music?
Other pieces performed were, “Nuit blanche” (with loop pedal), by French vocalist Cyrille Aimée, “The Art of Fugue / Contrapunctus XIX”, by JS Bach, then “Otche Nash”, by Igor Stravinsky. The Stravinsky song was a particularly fine piece.
The main work of the night was by the conductor Antony Pitts. He describes his composition as a mini-poperetta, which even encompassed an arrangement of JS Bach’s, “Sleepers, Awake!”, towards the end of Pitt’s work, which is titled “Anna’s Rapid Eye Movement” with tape. It begins with the soprano racing on to the stage and talking on a mobile phone to someone called Sophie.
Soon she began to sing her words, and then the other performers came in singing, with props. There was a suitcase, a manuscript and a rolled up poster. The poster plays a key part in this show, and this poster is included in the 2018 Song Company season program.
The players sang and talked and the tenor walked around the audience as he sung and performed. The final section where Anna awakes is set to the recording of people clapping and then the singers join in clapping until the audience realises that it’s the end and they join in. There was a lot in this work and at times with the taped music and sounds going on it was quite cacophonous and repetitive, but ultimately entertaining and dramatic.
For the final two works, the players stood front and centre stage and performed “Wem in Leidenstagen”, by Friedrich Filitz and “O Sacrum Convivium”, by Olivier Messiaen, both were stunning and ended this show of dreams and time.