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Luminescence tackles the vagaries of love

Luminescence Chamber Singers. Photo: Helen Musa

Music / Glass Heart, Luminescence Chamber Singers. At Wesley Uniting Church, Forrest, March 14. Reviewed by HELEN MUSA.

A packed-to-the-rafters house at Wesley Uniting Church proved beyond a doubt that there is a large audience in Canberra for the exquisitely refined music that Luminescence Chamber Singers presents.

Canberra’s fine music lovers can feel gratified to have such a professional ensemble in their midst.

Never compromising their explorations of early music, under the watchful eye of artistic director AJ America and mentor Roland Peelman, Luminescence cleverly interleaf songs from the Renaissance and earlier eras with more contemporary works, where necessary rearranging the music to suit the Luminescence line-up of mezzo America, sopranos Rachel Mink and Brianna Louwen (temporarily replacing Veronica Milroy), tenor Dan Walker, bass Alasdair Stretch and baritone Lucien Fischer.

The performance focused on three substantial works under the overarching theme, Glass Heart, a nod to the fragility of human emotions and the vagaries of love, particularly love lost.

It began with Monteverdi’s Sestina – Lagrime d’amante al sepolcro dell’amata (Tears of a Lover at the Tomb of the Beloved) composed after the death of the composer’s wife and one of his leading singers.

This quietly dramatic work opens on a sombre note, but then takes the singers through a variety of moods, using the classical Ancient Greek figures of Glaucus and the poetess Corinna as the focus.

Though plaintive, this work is never showy, finishing on a quiet, peaceful note.

A flashback to 1175AD followed, with another substantial work, this time by the Provencal female troubadour Contessa Beatriz de Doa, lashing out at a treacherous lover in A Chanta M’er. The subject matter is gendered and so was the singing, with America’s deeper voice matched by Mink’s exquisite soprano and a light vocal drone underneath.

A sensitive masculine response followed in Ah Robin, Gentle Robin by William Cornysh, taken from the Henry VIII Book. This, like much in the program, was very quiet.

There followed more contemporary works, David Lang’s I live in Pain and Drew Crawford’s When the Heart is Cracked or Broken, with words by Michael  Leunig from  which the title Glass Heart derived.

At no point did the ensemble reach out for high drama but there was plenty of sex, as in the lusty lyrics to Orlande de Lassus’s Matrona Mia Cara and  more notably in the centrepiece to the concert, Luca Marenzio’s Baci, Soavi e Cari, where the different kisses (baci) of sexual love are traced from foreplay to consummation. This was more passionate than playful, requiring the full power of the ensemble.

I will not catalogue all of the works in the program, which included an unexpected Finnish song Kaipaava, Pink’s Glitter in the Air, arranged by Peelman, and Sting’s Fragile, arranged by America with some amusing vocalising at the end eliciting titters, showing Luminescence’s talent for extracting exactly the response from its listeners that it wants.

 

 

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Helen Musa

Helen Musa

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