Review / Passionate songs tell of unexpected journey

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Soprano Sonia Anfiloff. Photo: Peter Hislop

Music / “The Unexpected Journey Back”, Art Song Canberra. Wesley Music Centre, October 17. Reviewed by ROB KENNEDY.

IT’S been seven months since my last music review for “CityNews” due to COVID-19 and this concert of art songs, as its title suggests, has led to an unexpected journey between performances.

The title of this concert, “The Unexpected Journey Back”, illustrates soprano Sonia Anfiloff’s journey to date through her voice to her life. It is also about how life imitates art and art imitates life. Performing with Anfiloff were Rowan Harvey-Martin on violin and viola and Kylie Loveland piano, who all teach at the same school.

For Art Song’s first concert in more than seven months, they began with “Silent Noon” by Vaughan Williams. This sensitive song flowed with a lilt and subtlety that made it feel quite contemporary. Anfiloff’s voice carried it clearly and sensitively as did Loveland on piano.

A composer not heard nearly enough in the concert hall followed, Erich Wolfgang Korngold. His sweeping Hollywood movie music sound lay in the background for his splendid song “Unvergänglichkeit”, which means immortality.

“Var det en dröm” by Sibelius is an elegant song that asks, was it a dream? Anfiloff sang with a powerful volume through its delicate moments. Her prevailing voice soared through the centre in this intense work.

Wagner’s “Im Treibhaus”, seemed almost untouchable. Anfiloff’s softness and finesse echoed through this haunting tune. A repetitive motive on the piano kept reminding the audience just how lingering great music like this is. The moments where Anfiloff sang unaccompanied hit a poignant high mark.

The poem “Heart, we will forget him”, by Emily Dickinson was set to music by Aaron Copland. This short song steps along at a slow pace. Copland made his music sound like the sensitive expressions this poem holds. Anfiloff and Loveland made this work so well.

Then, for the Brahms songs in “Zwei Gesänge”, Rowan Harvey-Martin joined the pair with her viola. The addition of this voice made the sound much more complex. The stringed voice added ample mystery to this sweet yet formidable work. Anfiloff’s voice got a little lost under the volume of the other instruments at times during the first of these songs, which was titled “Gestillte Sehnsucht”. In the second, “Geistilches Wiegenlied”, the three performers balanced well in this gentle lullaby.

Songs by Duparc and Richard Strauss followed, then for the final work on the program, Rachmaninoff’s “Spring Waters”, from his 12 romances Op. 14. In this work, the audience was hit with the full dramatic power of Anfiloff’s voice. This wholehearted song ripped out with such intense power as Anfiloff gave it her all, knocking this reviewer back in his seat.

Anfiloff then spoke saying she had never not given an encore then gave the audience a Broadway song from Victor Victoria, “Crazy World”. This clearly mirrored what Anfiloff and this world have been going through. The quality and presence of Anfiloff’s performance never dimmed in this quite special song.

It was wonderful to hear live music again, especially to hear these passionate songs performed so strongly. It was great to have performers back again and to see a group hug from this trio at the end.

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