Canberra International Music Festival director Roland Peelman. Photo by Peter Hislop

Music / CIMF, Concert 21 – “Bach for All”. At the Fitters’ Workshop, May 12. Reviewed by IAN McLEAN

THIS concert was overly ambitious in terms of staging and content.

Performance space limitations within the Fitters’ Workshop meant that most of the combined youth choirs were pre-positioned at the rear of the stage and had to stand for well over an hour in 5C temperatures before they were required to sing.

Little wonder they were flat in pitch and enthusiasm!

It would have been quite simple to file the choir into position just before they had to Sind, both for their comfort and for overall concert presentation.

At least one young singer was overcome by the long wait and required assistance to move from the stage before she’d had a chance to sing a note.

Artistic Director Roland Peelman seemed determined to cram as much as possible into the concert so, sadly, it all became a mishmash with no real programming structure.

The concert opened in interesting fashion with a work by festival composer-in-residence, Bree van Reyk.

Canberra Youth Orchestra (CYO) woodwind and brass were lined up in the aisles along the walls while percussion were set up in the crossover areas amongst the audience (further evidence of space limitations).

“To Peg Mantle, with Thanks”, a tribute to Bree’s childhood music teacher, is an atmospheric soundscapeand includes unexpected and inventive sound effects such as all players standing to drop drumsticks to the ground in unison.

The remainder of the concert was billed as “Bach’s Greatest Hits” and, first up, the undoubted concert highlight – the sonic.art saxophone quartet performing an incredibly tight and cohesive arrangement of the “Toccata and Fugue in D minor”. This was playing of amazing dexterity, excellent balance and intonation and simply terrific depth of big, exciting sound.

CYO took over again and performed a sensitive reading of the”‘Air from the Third Suite”. Dynamics and phrasing were well controlled and effective though intonation weaknesses were evident within the upper strings.

Cellos and a solitary bass lay a solid foundation though robbing longer notes of full value allowed “musical gaps”.

Amy Brookmanand Madeleine Jevons, from the Penny Quartet (2019 Featured Artists with Musica Viva Australia’s regional touring program), joined CYO for a competent and energetic reading of the “Concerto for Two Violins” then three short pieces from dance suites for the CYO woodwind section.   These were enjoyable but phrase endings were loose and in the “Badinerie” the clarinets performing the rhythmic accompaniment overpowered the flute melody.

Five chorales followed featuring the orchestral brass and the more senior of the choirs. Conductor Leonard Weiss set fine tempi and provided very clear direction but, frustratingly, the brass players did not follow him intently resulting in variation in note length and untidy phrase endings.

Highlight two of the concert occurred when the junior choir joined for the last of the chorales in their first appearance of the concert. They were confident, true in pitch and solid in sound. A further four well known Bach works concluded the concerts. There was indecision with vocal entries resulting in a tendency to creep in rather than sing with confidence.

It was good that the CYO and choirs were afforded the opportunity to perform in the festival. They are talented musicians and singers, but odd programming by the Festival artistic director did not permit this youth talent to be shown to best advantage.

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Thank you,

Ian Meikle, editor