Review / Audience spellbound by ensemble’s ‘mysterious’ sound

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The Hourglass Ensemble. Photo by Peter Hislop
AN adventurous and interesting program hallmarked Sydney-based Hourglass Ensemble’s first venture in Canberra. 

Well, adventurous and interesting except for the opening piece, Mozart’s rather pedestrian “Kegelstatt Trio”, K. 498. Pianist Anna Rutkowska-Schock, violist Michelle Urquhart and clarinettist Andrew Kennedy played it with finely balanced tones and seamless interactions, but the piece sat awkwardly beside the rest of the innovative program, which featured works by young Australian composers, including two world premieres.

And, so, flautist Ewa Kowalski, and percussionist Timothy Brigden, with guest soprano Suzannah Lawergren joined the trio.

The first of the premieres was “Stained Red Heart”, a song cycle for soprano and chamber ensemble, by Brisbane-born Amber Evans, with lyrics taken from literary sources. It’s in four movements, evoking indigenous experiences, such as “The Stolen Generation” in the third movement, in which we hear an excerpt from Keven Rudd’s “Sorry” speech in parliament. Some of the lyrics are in the traditional language of the Warlpiri people, hailing from north-west of Alice Springs.

This is a work of great emotion, expansive lands, distant desert mirages. There is driving rhythm, tainted with a sense of anguish and hopelessness. It is a very sad piece, but beautifully contrived and played. The hushed audience hung on every nuance.

Melbourne-born composer, Harry Sdraulig – all of 25 years of age – wrote his “Sonata for Flute and Piano” four years ago, for his then flautist partner, and now wife, Kim Falconer. It, too, starts with a prelude of melodic mysteries, leading into a scampering second movement that sounds like bumblebees hard at work. The third is a reflective romanza, recalling the style of a Chopin nocturne, back to a showy, virtuosic scat-like style in the concluding movement.

With the composer in the audience, Rutkowska-Schock and Kowalski gave the Sonata their all, rising confidently to the challenge of the work’s many contrasts and complexities and delivering a performance of great style and skill.

A long passage for solo viola introduced “Finally, After All This” by Brisbane composer, Richard Grantham. It’s another very interesting work, with the five movements named for the poems that carry the lyrics for each song. And, together, the titles themselves make a poem. There are reflections on giving eulogies, being unable to say the desired things to someone, finding the reasons why, talking to the dead as if they yet were alive, and finally realising too much has been said already.

Once again the Hourglass Ensemble held their audience spellbound in mystery and improvised sounds, filling the room with orchestrations that weave in, out and through the group, underscored by Lawergren’s crystal-clear voice and remarkable range.

Another world premiere closed the program – and the audience would hear it even before the Australian composer, Margaret Tesch-Muller. As well as evoking the sounds of whales, dolphins and birds, this piece connects the modern-day occupants of this vast island we call Australia to its previous occupants, stretching back tens of thousands of years.

And evocative it is, with the Hourglass Ensemble bringing it to vivid life and colour. Especially noteworthy was the way Lawergren’s voice and Kowalski’s flute exchanged places without the audience even realising.

With this recital the Hourglass Ensemble surely must have claimed a place in Canberra’s music scene and is deserving of a solid following.


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