What a sensuous and spiritual treat to be ensconced in the new Melbourne Recital Centre with its fine acoustics, listening to these young but virtuoso exponents of baroque music perform works by Purcell and Handel.
The timber-lined Elisabeth Murdoch Hall has been designed with chamber music in mind, and the experience of listening to soprano Miriam Allan and the seven-piece chamber ensemble Ironwood was intimate and intense. The instrumentalists are all Australian musicians, who have worked here and overseas and have performed together as Ironwood since 2006. Miriam Allan is also Australian, born in Newcastle, and has been developing her remarkable voice, initially as a protégé of Dame Emma Kirkby, in England and Europe. Their Melbourne concerts are part of a national tour, a homecoming for Allan, who has worked with every member of Ironwood on various projects.
The first half of the programme consisted of a unique selection of songs and dances by Purcell (1659-1695), most of them from his semi-operas The Fairy Queen, The Indian Queen and King Arthur. The selection imitated a masque, or ceremonial entertainment, typical of the composer’s time. Purcell’s secular songs were mostly composed for plays but, on the whole, only the songs have survived. Allan’s interpretation spanned a variety of emotions, and the acoustic qualities of the hall allowed her and the players to drop back at times to the barest pianissimo.
Allan’s voice is light, eminently suited to the chamber format, with a clear and ringing higher register but with an emotional depth and warmth that reaches across to the audience. Her presence onstage is magnetic and something of the magic was lost when she was absent for Handel’s Trio Sonata in G major that followed the interval.
That is not to say that Ironwood wasn’t delightful, entertaining and accomplished. They simply excelled in the role of supporting a soloist and responded to Allan’s vivacity and delicate handing of the songs. Led by violinist Rachael Beesley, the ensemble of two violins (Beesley and Julia Fredersdorff), viola (Nicole Forsyth), double bass (Kirsty McCahon), oboe (Kirsten Barry), cello and viola da gamba (Daniel Yeadon), organ and harpsichord (Neal Peres Da Costa), played with obvious enjoyment, fine musicality and in perfect balance.
The musicians are all early music specialists and use gut strings on period and modern instruments. Daniel Yeadon played a viola da gamba for Purcell and a cello for the Handel. Neal Peres da Costa played a small organ and an exquisite eighteenth century French double manual harpsichord.
The second half was devoted to the music of Handel, firstly the instrumental Trio Sonata, which Ironwood played with great dynamics, and lastly the cantata Silete Venti, a sacred piece sung in Latin. Allan returned to the stage for this work and made a dramatic vocal entry in the first recitative: Silence, winds! Her voice was assured, with exquisite passages of coloratura in the arias and a joyous sense of reverence. The ensemble played with equal passion and intricacy.
An encore was demanded and Allan introduced it with charm and self-deprecation. It was ‘her’ song, allocated by her father: Handel’s Miriam’s Tuneful Voice!
Musica Viva Australia presents
Miriam Allan and Ironwood
Venue: Elisabeth Murdoch Hall, Melbourne Recital Centre | Cnr Southbank Boulevard & Sturt Street, Southbank
Dates/Times: Saturday, March 28, 2009 @ 8:00pm; Tuesday, March 31, 2009 @ 7:00pm
Duration: 2 hours
Bookings: 03 9699 3333 | www.melbournerecital.com.au