Members and guests of the Senior Common Room were treated to yet another memorable concert last Monday night. The quality of the eclectic array of performances — testament to the College’s rich music program and growing network of musical friends — was impressive.
One such musical friend of the College is harpsichordist Diana Weston, who joined singer Vice-Principal Dr. Hester Wilson to perform two charming pieces. The first was Barbara Strozzi’s L’astratto, which was followed by Claudia Sessa’s Occhio. The performers have worked together on a number of occasions, which accounted for the highly polished and convincing renditions of both compositions. The second was particularly interesting: the Italian text, about a singer’s quest to find something to sing that fitted her mood, was broken up by English interjections, which was an engaging personal touch.
Organ Scholar Titus Grenyer then took a seat at Diana Weston’s harpsichord to perform an original composition, which he completed that morning. Titus emulated the French Baroque style with impeccable accuracy (notwithstanding the occasional glimpses of late classical harmony, which were like charming modern thumbprints pressed onto the Baroque mould). Titus’ performance made a strong case for his belief that we shouldn’t consider Baroque-style composition to be an ‘archaic pursuit’. Bach’s First Suite (Gigue) and Rabbath’s Iberique Peninsulaire, played by Instrumental Scholar Adrian Whitehall on the double bass, followed. The highlight of these was the Rabbath, which showed off Adrian’s mastery of bow technique; assisted by the ideal acoustic of the Senior Common Room, he painted the air with a variety of colours. It was a pleasure to hear this inventive music played with such conviction.
Guest vocalist Nichole Thomson, currently working at the University of Central Queensland, joined Prof. Ian Jack to perform an eighteenth-century aria by Giuseppe Sarti. The aria, Lungi dal caro bene (‘I cannot survive away from my beloved’), was arranged in Australia by Isaac Nathan around 1850. Nathan was the first composer of note to settle in Australia, and was an expert on vocal style from Mozart to Bellini, and known for notating the types of ornamentation that many opera singers would often improvise. The highlight of Nicole’s performance were the sustained notes sitting in the middle of her register, which were later described by audience members as having a ‘honey-like’ quality. At the Steinway, Prof. Jack executed the piano accompaniment — which required the alternation between lyrical projection and subtle background harmonic colouring — perfectly.
The last item on the program was Rachmaninoff’s Trio Elegiac, performed by the Sydney Conservatorium Piano trio (comprised of Amanda Chen, Hikaru Fuminashi and myself). The trio was written in 1890 to commemorate the death of the composer’s mentor, Tchaikovsky, and as such spends a considerable amount of time in the minor mode. We had been working for some weeks on this difficult composition, and felt very humbled to have received encouraging audience feedback.
Just as the evening was coming to a close, those who remained witnessed an impromptu poetry reading by Michael Slingo. Michael had, impressively, memorised Lord Macaulay’s Horatius at the Bridge, and recited it with conviction and enthusiasm. Although, at that late hour, many were tempted to choose sleep over a 25-minute poetry reading, those who stayed were extremely happy to have done so. Thanks to the partnership between an ingenious writing and inspired performance, the audience was held captive for the entire duration of the poem. Michael was convinced by admirers to repeat this performance at some point during the year for a larger audience.
– Will Cesta