29 September 2015

To them let us garlands bring

Nathan Lay and friends
Lieder Society of Victoria
30 September 2015
Richmond Uniting Church

It had to be a winner, did this recital.

Four musicians hand-picked from a pool of 70 contenders for the Victorian Opera-Melbourne Con. Master of Music degree and an expertly ‘curated’ (sorry, but that’s what it really was) program of English, Italian and German songs. Add to that mix two years of hard yakka: coaching and teaching, language and stagecraft and we had a concert where everyone knew their stuff and got on with it.

It was a relaxed and joyous affair, crowned – wait for it – by a standing ovation. The audience was a hard one: lieder groupies, people who knew the text by heart, who had firmly-held opinions on interpretation and dynamics. And into this den strode the four friends.

Nathan Lay and Simon Bruckard began with that luscious cycle of Gerald Finzi. Very English, with text from Shakespeare plays. Everyone in the church had the Bryn recording of course, but after a few seconds he’d been replaced by Nathan and Simon. That in itself is an indication of the musicianship of the two young men.

Nathan now has a rich baritone voice now expertly placed in his head to produce a sound that gently but firmly filled the space without any stress. It was a hard space to sing in and his opera-house power could easily have bullied us. He found the gentle soliloquies in Finzi’s songs and Simon walked beside him all the way. This was not opera. This was art song – crisp and clean and totally beautiful.

Michael ‘The Rabbit’ Petruccelli drew a complete change of pace: the randy Italian under the window with his guitar (I’ve never heard it called that before) but with Papa’s blunderbuss not far away.

He’d chosen songs that sat right in the middle of his range and he didn’t even think about his Italian-tenor-wobble-and-sob software. His pianissimo was beautifully controlled. His Torna a Surriento was an example masterful resistance – musicianship over histrionics. This was not just voice. It was brain and voice. And again, Simon provided the bedrock that the singer built on.

Was Matthew nervous? Recovering from a cold? There was no doubting his control of the difficult Strauss songs. I assume his German was faultless; Simon would have seen to that. But his voice didn’t have the richness I’d heard from him only a few weeks before.

Matthew has a voice that’s developed superbly in the two years of Vic Opera’s MoM program. He can handle Rossini on one hand and Strauss on the other. In spite of his voice difficulty, though ,we got the magic of these beautiful songs.

Everyone in the church had, no doubt, one song that grabbed them; that took them back to a wonderful place.

Once, when I knew nothing about RVW’s songs, I accompanied Lois for her A Mus A exam. Silent Noon was on her list. In spite of my ignorance loved it then. I do now and more so. Would Nathan find the summer heat, the dragon-fly hanging like a blue thread … from the sky?


But he didn’t have the quandary I had. Lois was prepared to marry me ‘if I would have her’.

Accompany? yes. Marry? no! So … moving right along …

The best was last.

‘Litanei’, Schubert. A rich, powerful, emotional song where baritone and piano need to be welded, totally integrated; smooth vocal lines on equal footing with carefully controlled pedalling. It was there. It was all there. Real grab-you-in-the-gut stuff.

I loved it.
Who is going to fund these blokes to do a Salon recital?

Wind Farm Music Dedicated to Tony Abbott – a quodlibet for piano trio by Lyle Chan

Seraphim Trio
19 August 2015
45 Downstairs

Politically motivated music has been around forever - almost. Haydn’s Symphony # 45 (The Farewell, subtitled, ‘last one please blow out the candle’) is an early example; Patrick Ascione’s Guernica (1978) is much later. Some of it is seriously political, some of it is acerbic, some is comical and witty such as Haydn’s Symphony # 47 (The Palindrome). It’s just that the black-tie, po-faced milieu that is the norm for classical music today has, with one or two exceptions, killed the possibility of hearing ‘classical’ music with non-serious intent. Sometimes, though, a piece comes along that defies the respectful-attention expectation. Wind Farm Music Dedicated to Tony Abbott is a very contemporary example.

It was commissioned by Julian Burnside from Lyle Chan only a few months ago. Lyle’s piece is both political and witty. Its subtitle ‘a quodlibet for piano trio’ – from the Latin, ‘what pleases’ – describes the piece as a pastiche of quotes stitched together and sometimes in counterpoint (which makes those bits simultaneous quodlibets). It’s the quotes that give WFMDtTA its edge.

The piece is analogous to a political cartoon: brief, pithy, witty and multilayered. And like the best political cartoons it’s funny – laugh-out-loud funny.(Lyle told me it was ok to laugh.) As well, it has something serious to say. Picture a wheat famer ploughing. Snatches of ABCFM escape the cab of his tractor and head at the speed of sound (340.29m/s) into the atmosphere. Bits of music hit the blades of a wind turbine. They’re reflected in all directions from the blades. (It’s quite safe. It’s well above the frequency of infrasound.) It is these reflected quotes – there are 17 – that form Lyle’s quodlibet.

Seraphim found all of that: the quotes, the wit, the edge. We’ve come to expect all of that from a sharpish lot who are not afraid of something that’s new or breaks tradition.

Like artworks built from found objects, most musical pastiches don’t work. You can see the lines of Tarzan’s Grip, yellowing with age. This piece is a major exception. It’s seamless.

Something fishy about this quote

I have a theory – triggered by a Burnside comment about Beethoven IX at the first performance – that Lyle’s piece is subtly about freedom. The text in the choral movement is freude – joy. It can, Burnside suggested, be reasonably be rendered freiheit – freedom. Likewise, some of the other quotes from William Tell, The Marriage of Figaro, The Trout … And like all good conspiracy theories this one depends on selected evidence and is completely untestable.

Seraphim Trio seems to be doing more than any other Melbourne chamber group to get ‘classical’ (whatever that may be) music to a broad audience. That day (19 August 2015) the Trio staged three pop-up concerts/performances/recitals/events/launches (delete several at will) in a little theatre, a Melbourne library and a city museum then took off for Adelaide to stage a Beethoven Festival in the SA State Library.

This launch was at 45 (halfway) Downstairs. The little gallery – the performance space – had pieces of framed art on the wall. All were handwritten musings about climate change. Wind farms; climate change; now ex-PM Abbott; political music; perhaps there is hope for humans yet.

Later in the day Seraphim played Lyle's quodlibet at the State Library of Victoria but this time with a real - as opposed to a plastic - piano.

and here's Lyle's program note about the piece:


The ABC might record it - as a piece of Australian political history ... perhaps ... one day.

Fairfax certainly has it on record:


And it worked.
Lyle 'received numerous gleeful messages' to that effect on execution day. It was, it is, a piece for it's time.