Christ Church St Laurence, Sydney
August 27 2017
Written by Ria Andriani
In their return visit to Sydney, the Fieri consort performed a programme of sumptuous music which explored the depths of despair as well as the hope of light. Singing in one-to-a-part formation, they combined the confidence of soloists with the sensitivity of being in a group. The programme comprised English Elizabethan music, with frequent forays to mainland Europe and the deep south of America. Christ Church St Laurence was an apt venue, as the programme consisted largely of sacred music.
The first half of the concert explored despair and doubt: from Gibbon’s setting of Walter Raleigh’s poem What is a life, Morley’s Nolo mortem peccatoris which voiced Christ’s impassioned plea at his most vulnerable moment, to Gesualdo’s unflinching yet self-pitying Peccantem me quotidie with its chromatic texture and simpler harmony during the supplication “Salva me”. Lassus’ Sibylline Prophecies was a wonderful, rarely-heard masterpiece which the group performed with great expressivity and clarity. Though sibyls were originally a pagan concept, the medieval revision changed the text to promise light and a way out of the shadows of death.
The second half of the concert showcased the individual singers in solo, performing duets and trios. James McMillan’s O Radiant Dawn was a suitable choice for its Renaissance influence, with the composer’s distinctive grace notes. Moving to the middle of the church, the group launched themselves to shape note singing of early American music, pieces brought by early settlers to the deep south. They were not unlike the later spirituals with their close harmony and anachronistic text. Tenor Tom Kelly stood out as the soloist in What Wondrous Love. The return of Gesualdo in this half, showed another aspect to the composer: a deep belief in the mercy of God which was conveyed through the more consonant harmony. The programme finished with another piece by Byrd: Christe qui lux es et dies, a setting of the evening hymn which had the original plainchant moving through each voice. Soprano Hannah Ely stood at the back of the church as cantor and the rest answered with a soft amen. In the encore, soprano Lucy Cox gave an entrancing performance of the solo in Charles Stanford’s The Blue Bird.
The Fieri consort carried the performance with great style and delicacy. Throughout the concert, members would join and retire depending on the number of voices in each piece. Winner of the Cambridge Early Music Prize at the 2017 York Festival, the ensemble sang with a consistent sound, mixing and mingling in 4 to 7 voice parts. They are truly welcome guests to Sydney and will be worth to catch in their return visit in 2019.
Ria Andriani for SoundsLikeSydney©
Ria Andriani graduated with Bachelor of Music/ Bachelor of Arts from UNSW in 2015. She now sings as a soprano with various choirs in Sydney, and presents recitals in collaboration with other musicians. Follow Ria on www.facebook.com/RiaAndrianiSoprano