Vestige – A Hidden Curiosity/Kammerklang
Anna Fraser, soprano/ Jack Symonds, piano
Recital Hall West, Sydney Conservatorium of Music
17 April, 2021
Vestige, the Sydney iteration of production house Kammerklang’s A Hidden Curiosity series is a collection of 8 Australian art songs performed by soprano Anna Fraser with pianist Jack Symonds. The 60-minute program features music by Luke Styles, David Evans, Mark Oliveiro, Diana Blom, Ian Whitney, Robert McIntyre, Sean Quinn, and Anne Cawrse.
As introduced by Kammerklang’s Artistic Director Cameron Lam, A Hidden Curiosity aims to champion art song from across Australia; art song that is at risk of disappearing from the awareness of both artists and audiences. Launching an open call for scores, the program was curated by Kammerklang with the participation of the performers, creating a unique showcase of each duos’ “skill, personal aesthetic, musicality …(and) the diversity of art song created in Australia.”
The outcome is an accomplished and enlightening performance of contemporary Australian art song that espouses both traditional and cutting- edge soundscapes. Anna Fraser’s perfect diction, impeccable craft and tremendous range is supported by an equally insightful and skilful performance from Jack Symonds.
Sung in English, French and German and in the presence of 5 of the composers, the songs are introduced in turn by both performers. The songs variously draw from nature and emotion, in the poems of established and emerging English and other language poets from Australia and elsewhere. As noted by Symonds, it is critical in the establishment of Australian art song repertoire that “Australian composers engage with music styles and text from all around the world.” This is a challenging program for both singer and pianist to perform and interpret, with rigorous demands on the voice and the technique of both.
Dawn from Two Sarah Day Songs by Ian Whitney is accurately described by Anna Fraser as “abstract shapes with light and play within those shapes.” With a limpid piano part played on the Recital Hall West’s Steinway grand piano, the song ends in a splendourous flourish. Trewella by Diana Blom, from Three Water Ballads of Tim Malfroy reaches out to German legend. In the style of a sea shanty, its text by Tim Malfroy, is beautifully matched with the music. A poet, musician and beekeeper who lives west of the Blue Mountains, Malfroy’s Three Water Ballads tell the tale of the Lorelei, who lured sailors along the Rhine to their deaths. Matthew Trewella falls in love with a mermaid and goes to live with her in the sea leaving his wife to mourn his loss.
Colloque Sentimental from Il Garrot by Mark Oliveiro is an ambitious and complex setting of French text by Verlaine, depicting faded love. Both voice and piano leap registers; the piano takes a more percussive role with its strings dampened by hand; plucked piano strings over a pedal point and hammered actions create an osseous, sepulchral effect. eve (I) by Sean X. Quinn, a formidable vocal soliloquy receives its world premiere. Incorporating glissandi, tongue trills, leaps of register, stammered and spoken word, Fraser performs with impressive versatility and flexibility. Robert McIntyre’s topical A Sea Spray of Ash creates an eerie warning with evocative pedalling as the song exhorts us to change before our future turns to ash.
Since I Lost You from This Too Shall Pass by Anne Cawrse contains complex rhythms, seven flats and lengthy pedal points in a continuous unfolding of sounds from the piano, followed by an early piece by Luke Styles, Frühlingsglaube which Symonds describes as harking back to the style of German Romanticism.
David Evans’ In My Brain to text by Emily Dickinson is a confronting piece for voice and prepared piano which also receives its world premiere at this concert. Recondite and exploratory it is sometimes brutal in sound. Onomatapoeic writing creates a sense of intense drama amply realised by the performers.
The program notes, enhanced by exquisite art work publishes not just the text, translations and biographies, but the sentiments behind the compositions which greatly enhances the understanding of the writing, given that there is so little information surrounding these new pieces. They need to be performed and heard repeatedly and taken up by more performers in order that they enter the repertoire and the consciousness.
Important work by writers, curators and performers,
The Melbourne iteration Memento will be performed by Amelia Jones & Stefan Cassomenos, on May 22.
Shamistha de Soysa for SoundsLikeSydney©