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Canberra Today 24°/28° | Tuesday, November 30, 2021 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

The Collective view of war was a winner

Dan Russell and Pip Thompson, violins. Photo: Peter Hislop

Music / “Tales of War”, Phoenix Collective. At Wesley Uniting Church, Forrest, November 5. Reviewed by ROB KENNEDY.

WAR is an ever-present factor in our world and much of the music that speaks about conflict is profoundly moving. In an intimate concert of four string players set in a church, that sound and sentiment were penetrating.

The players in this string quartet version of the Phoenix Collective were leader and violinist Dan Russell, Pip Thompson; violin, Ella Brinch, viola and Andy Wilson, cello.

Used in war movies and for the death of presidents, Samuel Barber’s “Adagio” from his String Quartet No.1 cries out with the sound of mourning through music. This is a piece that is always intimate, no matter how it is set. My greatest memory of this work is hearing it played by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra the day after the September 11, 2001 attacks in the US. 

The sound of the movies followed with Joe Hisaishi’s music “Princess Mononoke”, which comes from the Japanese epic historical 1997 fantasy anime film by director Hayao Miyazaki. Included in this set were, “Mononoke Hymn”, arr. Yukihiro Matsubara, “Ashitaka to San~Ashitaka Sekki”, arr. Hiro Tsurunori, and “Eboshi Gozen~Tabidachi Nishihe”, arr. Yukihiro Matsubara.

In a blend of folk-sounding and cinematic music, while darkly dramatic and powerfully passionate, its filmic qualities set the mood. This delicious tonal music weaved its story with compassion. Sounding especially full in the church, the four players blended perfectly: their balance exactly right. Over the parts played, the music crossed similar territory, but its soft and intriguing nature made it work so well. Delicious stuff.

Phoenix collective. Photo Peter Hislop

The “String Quartet No.8”, by Dmitri Shostakovich over its five movements, is anguished, profoundly dark, motif filled and mysterious. These are the driving emotions within this amazing string quartet.

The handling of the dynamic balance by Phoenix was quite special. Their diminuendos and crescendos sounded as one. Every player shone, but Brinch on viola who had many of the driving themes did exceptionally well. Local player Pip Thompson, who is part of the group Super Rats and the CSO, a newcomer to Phoenix, played like she had always been with them. Wilson on cello is deceptively strong and subtle and Russell on lead violin has an enormous talent for expression over a wide variety of styles.

But the music, that was something else. Russian to its core and complete with a dynamic drive and compelling story. It is a mammoth work that enthrals from beginning to end and the long help pause by the players after the final note added to its solemn nature.

As Russell said introducing the final work, a traditional Danish tune arranged by the Danish String Quartet, he wanted to leave the audience with a note of hope. He related this feeling through a charming story about having to leave his daughter to attend a rehearsal early one morning.

Sounding like a folk song, the singing quality was undeniable. While lighthearted, it also had a soft and sensitive undertone that infected its musical sensibility. This is the sort of music that can make a listener cry tears of joy, and the playing, superbly fitting.

The programming is always first-rate from Phoenix. Other groups could do well to include such diverse styles of music into their concerts, and this was their best selection yet. Phoenix Collective Baroque will be performing two concerts in Wesley Uniting Church next week, November 12.

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