Music / “Songs Before Sleep”, SongCo SOLO. At Wesley Music Centre, July 12. Reviewed by CLINTON WHITE
RESCUED from the brink of financial collapse by a generous philanthropist, The Song Company has started new life, even sprouting a new arm, SongCo SOLO, in which individual members of the main ensemble get to perform solo recitals, including curating their own programs.
Ironically, this recital was bass baritone Andrew O’Connor’s swansong, as he is “choosing,” he says, “to step away (for now) from the core ensemble.”
O’Connor sees this as a new horizon. If this recital is any indication, that horizon is not all that distant because he has a very fine voice and he put together a most engaging program.
Founded on charming settings by Richard Rodney Bennett of six nursery rhymes, such as “Wee Willie Winkie” and “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”, collectively called “Songs Before Sleep”, this recital posed dreamtime songs, nightmarish songs, and a song, by Australian composer, Iain Grandage, evocative of the endless expanse of flat WA deserts, with another about where the Blackwood River, in WA, meets the confluence of the Indian and Southern Oceans.
There’s even a song, by American composer, Eric Whitacre, about sensual nocturnal activities.
There were settings by Robert Schumann of poems by Hans Christian Andersen. Some were quite dark, with a soldier marching to his death by firing squad with all of the squad missing except the soldier’s lover, a baby being taken by a raven, and a wedding reception full of deception with a drunken groom and a bride who was in love with the musician, who, in turn dies when his violin explodes on his chest.
O’Connor described “Der Zwerg” (“The Dwarf”) as Schubert’s “Game of Thrones”, involving a murder of passion. It was quite the contrast to the two other Schubert songs and English composer Ivor Gurney’s wistful, restful song, “Sleep”, which opened the program.
The closing song, again by Eric Whitacre, is an adaptation of Margaret Wise Brown’s children’s book “Goodnight Moon”. It is a very beautiful, transparent, serene piece that easily creates vivid images in the mind’s eye.
O’Connor’s rich warm bass baritone voice has an interesting, almost harmonic, “edge” to it giving it uncommon power and crispness, but never ear-piercing.
He has excellent control of his light vibrato, coupled with captivating expression (including facially), all underscored by an incredible and effortless range for his vocal register.
Never once did he miss a pitch, even in impossible intervals, and his timing was impeccable.
Supported brilliantly at the piano by Anna Rutkowska-Schock, from Poland, and fellow Sandgroper, Alex McCracken, playing clarinet in the Grandage songs, Andrew O’Connor showed conclusively that his future in his new art song career is well and truly assured.