Review / When music turns to fiery romance

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Photo by Peter Hislop
SPAIN and its culture, laid-back lifestyle, and even its traditional (and rather sensible) siesta conjure up thoughts of romance, even fiery romance.  

Many Spanish composers have captured these qualities in their music, Albéniz, Granados, and Rodrigo among them.

Spanisches Liederabend (Spanish Song Recital) is the brainchild of soprano Louise Keastfor which she gathered a group of fine musicians to perform a most charming and entertaining program of Spanish songs about love won and lost, promised but denied. A nice touch was to project surtitles to the wall behind.

Photo by Peter Hislop
The first was the much-loved “Siete canciones populares españolas” (“Seven Spanish Folksongs”), written in 1914 by Spanish composer, Manuel de Falla, otherwise well-known for his “Ritual Fire Dance”.

Guitarist Bradley Kunda returned to Canberra to play the guitar arrangement of the piano accompaniment for mezzo-soprano, Melissa Gregory. Kunda’s thoughtful and evocative playing suited Gregory’s warm, lyrical voice perfectly. She seemed a little reserved at first, but once she was into the set, which she sang in Spanish from memory, her confidence, along with the moods and emotions of the songs, came through beautifully.

 For the balance of the recital, pianist Mark Connors provided very fine playing, albeit too loud at times, especially for Gregory, as well as for tenor, Tom Holownia’s quite lovely, gentle, lyrical voice.  Connors, however, was perfect for Keast, whose voice would be well-suited to dramatic opera, and for baritone, Oliver Boyd’s strong, rich, resonant voice.

The 13 songs selected from the 44 that make up Austrian composer, Hugo Wolf’s “SpanischeLiederbuch”, written in 1889-90, featured all four singers in solo performances. Apart from the rather clumsy stage management of a music stand throughout, these songs, translated from Spanish to German by Emanuel Giebel and Paul Heyse, were enjoyable, not only for their, at times, nonsensical lyrics, but for the very fine vocal deliveries of the artists.

Photo by Peter Hislop
Concluding the recital was a set of 10 songs – again translated into German – written in 1849 by Robert Schumann.  Here the singers performed solos, duets in various combinations, and quartets.  All were thoroughly enjoyable, although, in the quartets, the voices were unbalanced, with the strong soprano and baritone voices swamping the lighter tenor and mezzo voices.  A highlight was Boyd’s performance of the appendix to this set – only so because it’s not about love or lust – “Ich bin der Contrabandiste” (“The Smuggler”).  Boyd must have been a pirate in a past life!

As Louise Keast continues to develop her idea, audiences will be the beneficiaries of well-constructed programming, fine young performers and delightful music.

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