Embedded within the Adelaide Festival this year is a series of chamber music concerts called Chamber Landscapes, held in the Ukaria Cultural Centre in the Adelaide Hills. The Ukaria Centre has a small concert hall with a great acoustic (lots of wood around!) seating perhaps 120 people, who look through a huge window behind the stage out onto the hills. The series is curated by Anna Goldsworthy, author of The Piano Lesson and herself a fine pianist. It juxtaposes Australian compositions with the music of Franz Schubert.
I went to the first concert in the series last night, a song recital. It began, appropriately enough, with a song cycle about the South Australian landscape; seven songs on texts by South Australian poets, composed and performed by South Australians. The composer was Calvin Bowman, who writes in an engaging style that reminded me of Roger Quilter. He played the piano part, and the songs were sung by Miriam Gordon-Stewart, who has an established international career as opera singer and director. The cycle, called “Over the brow of the hill” was commissioned by the Festival, and this was its premiere performance, but Miriam sang it as if she had been singing it for years. This not only betrayed her interpretative skill, but also arose perhaps from her familiarity with the scenes described in the poems, all comfortingly local. Her voice, obviously capable of far greater volume than she used in this intimate venue, is true, flexible, and altogether a pleasure to listen to. My personal favourite was the sixth song, The Mushroomer. The cycle was warmly received.
The second half was devoted to Schubert’s great song cycle, “Die Winterreise”. What a towering work this is, exploring as it does all the varying and indeed conflicting emotions that arise in a young man who is rejected in love. The pianist, Anthony Romaniuk, understood this great variety, which is reflected in the multitude of different textures in the piano part throughout the 24 songs, and not just between songs but within many of them too. And he was completely at one with the tenor, Steve Davislim. Davislim had immersed himself so deeply in the song cycle that, as he said in his introduction to the performance, he had difficulty not breaking into tears in many of the songs. “A performer cannot move others unless he himself is moved”, declared CPE Bach in the middle of the 18th century – and I was reminded of Kathleen Ferrier struggling to get through the end of Mahler’s “Das Lied von der Erde” when she recorded it with Bruno Walter. And indeed many of the audience were moved to tears by Davislim’s exquisitely personal rendering of these songs. It would take too long to list the particular felicities of each song, but there were scarcely any that did not bring something fresh and new to the audience, most of whom knew the cycle very well already. A masterly performance indeed.
Chamber Landscapes continues until Tuesday, and I would encourage anyone who may be considering going to do so. It promises to be a delightful series.
2017 Adelaide Festival
Venue: Ukaria Cultural Centre, Barker’s Hill
Dates: 9 – 14 March 2017