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Swept up in a concert of heavenly sounds

Artistic director Robyn Mellor. Photo: Peter Hislop.

Music / “Cantates in Noctem”, Polifemy and Blocksounds, Wesley Uniting Church, August 1. Reviewed by ROB KENNEDY.

PRAYING at different hours of the day through singing comes from the earliest times. This concert, with two groups both run by early music specialist Robyn Mellor, highlighted the beauty in this beseeching music of ancient times.

Singing in Polifemy were Robyn Mellor (director), Susan Antcliff, Hanna-Mari Latham, Liz McKenzie, Isabelle Mellor, Catherine Schmitz, Sarah Sutcliffe and Rachel Walker. In Blocksounds were Robyn Mellor (director), Elana Leske, Shae Leske and Nick Horn, on recorders.

The concert in the Wesley Uniting Church opened with “Ricercar Quarto Sopra Mi, Re, Fa, Mi”, by Girolama Frescobaldi. Sounding like, and as accurate as, one person on a church organ, these four players produced an evenly poised and solemn performance of this lovely tune, which was written over 400 years ago.

Matthias Mercker’s “Fuga 1” for the quartet came next. An extra bass was added to the alto and tenor line up. This created a much deeper bottom end, but never altered the quality of the playing in this plaintive flowing fugue.

Blocksounds. Photo: Peter Hislop.

It was back to the SATB arrangement for another Frescobaldi work, his “Canzon Prima, Prima Tono”. The clarity and quality of this group make them stand out among recorder quartets. This delightful music bounced along with many catchy melodies.

The eight female members in Polifemy took the stage for the Giovanni Pierluigi di Palestrina, “Alma Redemptoris Mater”, which roughly translates to “Loving Mother of the Redeemer”. Led by Mellor, as she sang, the unique experience of hearing an all-female choir quickly took hold. The singers complement each other. Their tonal qualities across their vocal ranges worked so well together.

Polifemy. Photo: Peter Hislop.

The written music of Palestrina’s “Compline 1 and 2”, night prayers, was as beautiful as the singing. It was a transcendent experience. Polifemy were expressive, subtle, and well-practised. The glorious sound floated through and up into the gallery where this reviewer was sitting. It’s the best place in Wesley Uniting Church to experience a live performance.

Blocksounds returned to perform Matthias Mercker “Fuga 7”. The offsetting of the recorder music to the vocal works proved to be a brilliant piece of programming. It also proved just how similar the human voice is to the tones of the ranges of recorders.

The “Compline 3” is a magical work of sublime musical writing. Describing profoundly beautiful music like this has had philosophers and academics baffled for hundreds of years. Accurate descriptions of music still elude us. In the mysterious splendour of music like this, there needs no explanation.

To add to this wonderful concert was a program that included a well-written mini-essay by Wystan Fisher. It explained the practice of offering prescribed prayers at particular times of the day, as in the music performed in this concert.

No one can describe music like this, it must be experienced. I was one of the lucky people to be swept up in this concert of heavenly sounds.

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Helen Musa

Helen Musa

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