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Song Company’s star turn at anniversary concert

The Song Company performs The Stars Turn. Photo: Peter Hislop

Music / The Stars Turn. The Song Company. At Wesley Uniting Church, June 30. Reviewed by DANTE COSTA.

The penultimate concert of  The Song Company’s 40th anniversary performance tour saw the ensemble delighting their Canberra audience at Wesley Uniting Church on Sunday afternoon.

Marking four fantastic decades of music making and championing the voices of Australian composers, this concert celebrated and paid homage to the wealth of Australian music commissioned and performed by The Song Company throughout the years. Debuting in 1984 as part of Sydney Philharmonia, soon the newly formed vocal ensemble had established its own independence and a significant presence within the Australian music scene.

Having recently entered a new era of artistic management with soprano Amy Moore and mezzo-soprano Jessica O’Donoghue taking the helm as co-artistic directors, the two were joined by soprano Susannah Lawergren, tenor Timothy Reynolds, baritone Hayden Barrington and bass-baritone Andrew O’Connor, all of which have illustrious and extensive solo and chamber backgrounds.

Opening with Peter Sculthorpe’s The Stars Turn (bearing inspiration for the title of the tour), it was immediately clear that this was going to be something special. The music itself is all encompassing. It was almost gyroscopic in a way as the skilful swelling dynamics that feed off the acoustics of the church give the impression of something that is constantly revolving and rotating. The text references staring out at the sky as the stars and the earth “turn forever” which was a witty reference to the illustrious history of Australian composers as well as serving as a precursor to up-and-coming Australian artists whose voices light up the sky, which was a key theme of the whole concert.

The next short pieces included Stuart Greenbaum’s A Cicada in the Blackbird’s Mouth as well as a few songs from Andrew Ford’s Australian Aphorisms, namely At Night on the Beach, Sleep and later in the program Hear the Bird of Day was also featured.

The ensemble was incredibly sensitive and responded well to each other in terms of their dynamics and their projection so that nothing was lost in the complex textures of the six voices. This was also the case with Katy Abbotts Flying, which was sung stunningly. Bats Ultrasound, a comical, almost larrikin-like piece by Danish composer Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen (although not Australian, it was said to be a favourite of the ensemble) incorporated whistling and roused a few giggles from the audience.

The second half of the program resumed with works by three pioneering Australian women composers beginning with Mater by Elena Kats-Chernin, beginning with thunderous ostinato that punctuated the rhythm and permeated throughout the piece. Sonya Holowell’s Become Like Children with text from The Uluru Statement from the Heart used with permission from the composer was pensive and reflective, which was then followed by Alice Chance’s Untitled. This piece was commissioned in 2019 and features a solo mezzo-soprano with soprano and tenor accompaniment and employs extended techniques which added a haunting and croaky undertone to the melody.

The final works, O Magnum Mysterium by Ross Edwards (which was rearranged for the sextet), Lime Song by Angus Davison (a premier performance) and Memory by Raffaele Marcellino were all performed with a comfortable confidence and conviction. This was concluded with a jazzy Who Stopped the Rain? by Martin Wesley-Smith.


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Helen Musa

Helen Musa

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