Review / Song Company triumphs over difficult works

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The Song Company performs “One-Equal-Music” at the Wesley Music Centre. Photo by PETER HISLOP

DESCRIBED as a vocal symphony, “One-Equal-Music” is something of a requiem to the World War I fallen. It’s in five movements:

no noise nor silence, but one equal music …

no fears nor hopes, but one equal possession …

no foes nor friends, but an equal communion and identity …

no darkness nor dazzling, but one equal light …

no ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity …

If you think that sounds esoteric, then the music was equally so. But it was also highly intellectual and intensely technical – very difficult to sing.

The piece is a collection of music by composers as diverse as Rachmaninov or Stravinsky and Australians Ella Macens, Ruth McCall or Ross Edwards. Between them, and there are others, they have composed settings of poetry by authors as diverse as the 12th century Hildegard von Bingen and 20th century Welsh poet Dylan Thomas or Australia’s Douglas Muecke.

To add to the diversity of authors and composers, so is there a diversity of poetic and musical styles. At one minute we hear the “Nicene Creed”. At the next it’s the whimsical fantasy of Muecke’s “Sour Note”, in which it is declared:

Scorpions?

Just the bare heel.

Quicksilver? Eels? Greased piglets?

Easy. Once you get the hang of it.

Musically, “One-Equal-Music” is a banquet of diverse rhythms, harmonies and melodies. There are weird sounds and sweet ones, high-pitched screeches and calming pianissimos, monophonic plainchant and up to eight-part polyphony sung to complex rhythms.

Perhaps the most poignant piece was a setting by young composer (and tenor in The Song Company), Owen Elsley of Dylan Thomas’ poem, “And Death Shall Have No Dominion”. Here the music was very much at one with the poem, the overall theme of the entire “symphony” reflected in its words: “Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again”.

This was not a concert to entertain; it was a concert to challenge the intellect, affirm the heroes of World War I, put everyday life into perspective and make the finite infinite.

But this work is even more challenging for the performers. The Song Company, its eight members singing a cappella, delivered on all the diversities of the music and the lyrics brilliantly. Exquisite tone, superb balance, precise control and beautiful expression were the hallmarks of their very fine performance.

They thoroughly deserved the almost capacity audience’s enthusiastic reception.

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