Thursday, September 19, 2019


Luminescence Chamber Singers
Directed by AJ America
Wesley Uniting Church, Forrest
15 September 2019

Reviewed by Len Power

An opportunity to see and hear Pergolesi’s ‘Stabat Mater’ performed live is not to be missed.  This performance with the Luminescence Children’s Choir and soloists Chloe Lankshear and Stephanie Dillon, accompanied by string quartet, deservedly attracted a large audience at the Wesley Uniting Church in Forrest.

Composed in 1736 by Giovanni Pergolesi, the score is set to a medieval text which describes the Virgin Mary witnessing the suffering of her son, Jesus, on the cross.  It’s one of Pergolesi’s most celebrated works.

Even without its religious connotations, the extreme suffering of a mother on the death of a child is an emotion we can all understand.  Pergolesi’s beautiful music is heart-breaking from start to finish.

The Luminescence Children’s Choir were impressive with their clear and accurate singing.  They sang four out of the twelve parts of the score from memory, which was quite a feat with a Latin text and demanding part singing.  It was also admirable to see them able to stand quietly and very still for lengthy periods while the soloists were singing.

Chloe Lankshear, soprano, and Stephanie Dillon, mezzo soprano, sang their parts with great technical skill and feeling.  Their solos were beautifully sung with a believable level of emotion.  When they performed the duets, the blending of their voices was sublime.

Chloe Lankshear

The string quartet of Madeleine Retter and Helena Popovic, violins, Katrina Vasala, viola, and Evelyn Andrew, cello, played the music score very well.  These are seasoned performers on the Canberra music scene, often appearing with the Canberra Sinfonia, National Capital Orchestra and others.

Artistic director of Luminescence and conductor of this concert, AJ America, brought together all the elements of this emotive work skilfully.  It was a memorable experience to see and hear this work performed so well.

This review was first published in the Canberra City News digital edition of 16 September 2019.

Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on the Artsound FM 92.7 ‘In the Foyer’ program on Mondays and Wednesdays at 3.30pm.


Canberra Choral Society
Music Director: Dan Walker
Albert Hall 14 September

Reviewed by Len Power

The sun was shining through the large windows of a packed Albert Hall and, with the promise of spring in the air, Canberra Choral Society’s Spring concert, ‘Sol y Luna’, was timed just right.

Music director and conductor, Dan Walker, had assembled a wide-ranging program of works that reflected humanity’s deep connection with sun, the moon and the stars.  Ranging across almost 1000 years, the program contained some well-known works as well as some that were less familiar.

The first bracket of songs celebrated the powerful and life-giving sun, commencing with ‘O Nobilissima Viriditas’ which is attributed to the 11th century Benedictine abbess, Hildegard of Bingen.  This arrangement had the women in the choir singing the chant and their fine singing was pleasantly uplifting.

All three other works in this group were very well sung.  Lili Boulanger’s ‘Hymn to the Sun’ was the standout - dramatic and powerful and sung clearly and accurately by the choir.

The second bracket featured works related to the stars and the moon as well as the seasons and the romance and atmosphere of evenings.  Australia’s Alice Chance was featured with her composition, ‘Fiat Lux’, a work of great beauty that showcased the fine blend of the choir’s sopranos and altos.

Canberra Choral Society

This was followed by two charming 19th century works by Fanny Hensel that focussed on the impact of the sun, moon and stars on nature.  The bracket finished with an outstanding and sensitive performance of Joseph Rheinberger’s ‘Abendlied’.

The second half of the program presented works by later composers commencing with a hauntingly beautiful work by Dan Walker himself, ‘Were All the Stars To Disappear And Die’, which was set to a text drawn from W.H. Auden’s ‘The More Loving One’.

New Zealander, David Childs, was represented with a finely atmospheric performance by the choir of ‘The Moon Is Distant From the Sea’.  The program concluded with a memorable performance of ‘Lux Aeterna’ by Edward Elgar.

Anthony Smith was the accompanist for the choir on piano and, between the brackets of choral works, he also gave beautiful performances of two solos of works by Chopin – Barcarolle Op. 60 and Berceuse Op. 57.

This excellent concert finished with a delightfully unexpected and well-sung ‘Rocket Man’ by Elton John as an encore.  Jane Russell-Jones provided a fine clarinet accompaniment.

This review was first published in the Canberra City News digital edition of 15 September 2019

Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on the Artsound FM 92.7 ‘In the Foyer’ program on Mondays and Wednesdays at 3.30pm.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Musica Viva presents the Emerson String Quartet

Emerson String Quartet from the USA
Llewellyn Hall
September 16, 2019

by Tony Magee

HAVING released no less than 35 albums on the Deutsche Grammophon label from 1990 to 2019, and winner of nine Grammy Awards, the Emerson String Quartet is one of the world’s most lauded and highly respected chamber music ensembles.

L-R: Paul Watkins, Lawrence Dutton, Philip Setzer, Eugene Drucker. Photo: Jürgen Frank

Beginning as a student group at the Juilliard School, and taking their name from the great American poet and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, they turned professional in 1976. 

Violinists and founding members Eugene Drucker and Philip Setzer both studied under the great Oscar Shumsky. Emerson is one of the few string quartets in the world, where first and second chairs alternate.

Mozart’s “String Quartet No. 21 in D Major, K575” with Setzer playing first violin opened the concert. Written for and dedicated to the King of Prussia in 1789, the piece showcases Mozart at the height of his powers.

The piece began with a gentle theme stated by the two violins, until it was taken over by Lawrence Dutton on viola and sweetened into a phrase of pure delight. The sound that Emerson created was one of refinement and charm.

The centrepiece of the concert was the “String Quartet No. 10 in E flat Major, Op. 51” by Dvořák, this time with Drucker in first chair. Composed and premiered in 1879, the quartet draws on classic slavonic themes, echoing the composer’s own “Slavonic Dances” and “Slavonic Rhapsodies”.

The delicate tonal changes in timbre and phrasing with the change of leader was a fascination in itself. It struck me during this work, how Emerson do not adhere to a fixed temperament, which is another of their unique hallmarks. You can hear chords being pulled into tune as they play through sweeping phrases. 

There were many glorious moments, none more-so than the exquisite melody exchanges between viola player Dutton and cellist Paul Watkins, who both played with glorious tonal projection and superb intonation.

Shostakovich’s “String Quartet No. 5 in B-flat Major, Op. 92” closed the concert, with Setzer returning as leader. Using the musical cryptogram DSCH, which is the composer’s initials in German, it was composed in 1952. Shostakovich waited until after Stalin had died, one year later, to premier it - a political move for his own safety, as he felt the piece would be interpreted by Stalin as a comment on ‘the dark and fearful aspects of reality’.

Emerson String Quartet lived and breathed every moment of the intensity, drama, struggle, torment and despair that this work evokes. Leading us straight down the garden path, Shoshakovich begins with a musically comic introduction - something which the quartet seemed to delight in presenting, before they descended into the devastating world of ‘reality’ posed by the composer.

Intense forte passages of incredible depth and fury, were contrasted by searing, delicate and suspenseful pianissimo work between first violin and viola, playing in unison two octaves apart. It was eerie, almost frightening.

And the audience was right there with them. You could have heard a pin drop. The captivating and almost shocking revelations that this work suggests were all too evident. People were moved, sometimes shaken.

First published in CityNews Digital Edition, September 17, 2019

PARTNERS IN CRIME - Rhonda Burchmore and Lara Mulcahy

Devised and performed by Rhonda Burchmore and Lara Mulcahy
Canberra Southern Cross Club – 14th September 2019

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

Rhonda Burchmore and Lara Mulcahy may be chalk and cheese, but both are consummate entertainers, and together they’re pure magic.  Their latest cabaret, “Partners in Crime”, is a delightfully silly entertainment based on the premise of two friends locked up for presenting bad impersonations. As part of their punishment, they’re obliged to entertain the in-mates, which they do by presenting... you’ve guessed it... bad impersonations of famous,  and sometimes not so famous, duos.

Rhonda Burchmore and Lara Mulcahy in "Partners in Crime" 

Actually some of the impersonations are not too bad at all. In fact some are very good indeed. That is if you can accept Ms Burchmore as Kenny Rogers to Ms Mulcahy’s Dolly Parton singing “Islands in the Stream”, or Ms Burchmore as Kiki Dee dueting “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” with Ms Mulcahy’s Elton John.

Yes it’s that silly.  Imagine Ms Burchmore as Cher belting out “If I Could Turn Back Time”, or dueting with Ms Mulcahy’s leering Sonny for “I’ve Got You Babe”. Perhaps as Glinda and Elphaba from “Wicked” singing “Because I Knew You”, (You guess who plays which), or Ms Burchmore recreating Hugh Jackman singing  “The Greatest Show”, or Ms Mulcahy as the bearded lady belting out “This is Me”.

Have I said too much?

Lara Mucahy (Sonny) - Rhonda Burchmore (Cher) 

Can’t help myself because there’s more…much more. The costumes and wigs are worth the price of admission alone, because, besides being very good singers, both Burchmore and Mulcahy are wonderful clowns, and watching them create the characters with lightning costume changes accomplished before your very eyes, is part of the fun.

Although it may sound chaotic, and at times chaos threatens, the routines are well rehearsed and the songs very well sung, even including some choreography, all of which is accompanied by a hardworking live band, at this performance no less the marvellous Michael Tyack on keyboards and Sam Evans on percussion.

“Partners in Crime” is touring widely so it’d be a crime to miss it when it comes to a venue   near you.

This review also appears in Australian Arts Review.

The Evolution of Mexican Music in the 20th and 21st Centuries

Presented by the Australian National Centre for Latin American Studies and the Embassy of Mexico

Featuring Irma Enriquez and Jacqueline Buswell

ANU School of Music

11 September

Report by Samara Purnell

The ANU hosted an evening of Mexican music on Wednesday night in a sold out event.

“The Evolution of Mexican Music in the 20th and 21st Centuries” was hosted by Dr Caroline Schuster, the incoming director of the Australian National Centre for Latin American Studies (ANCLAS).

The Ambassador of Mexico His Excellency Mr Eduardo Patricio Peña Haller was in attendance.

Mexican pianist Irma Enriquez gave an introductory talk on several Mexican composers, giving a brief overview of their musical genre, style or philosophy. This included the composers from which the evening’s program was drawn. Accompanying the talk were slides of artworks from the same eras. In the mid-20th Century, there was a move from nationalism to more eclectic and abstract forms of music. Jose Rolon, whose artistic vision was to blend European music with idioms of Mexican folklore, modern orchestral composer Arturo Marquez and Gabriela Ortiz, currently composing in Mexico, were amongst the composers named.

Enriquez was previously an Associate Professor of ANU-ANCLAS and has collaborated on projects involving the contemporary music of Mexico and Latin America. She has performed in Mexico, Spain, USA, Italy, Indonesia and Australia.

The program began with a colourful performance from the Mexican Lindo Dance Group, who has previously performed at Floriade and the Multicultural Festival. Dressed in beautifully striking, Aztec-inspired costumes and wearing huge dramatic headdresses, the upbeat performance began to the sound of a conch, played by one of the dancers. The other dancers utilized hand-held percussion and carried props of corn and a skull.

Dancer from Mexican Lindo Dance Group

This was followed by a series of short songs, sung in the native Nahuatl language by Soprano Paola Monroy, accompanied by Enriquez on piano.

Enriquez then performed “Over the Waves”, a well-known tune by J Rosas. Two pieces from Manuel M Ponce, described by Enriquez as a romantic and nationalist, were included in the program, with Estrellita (“Little Star”) sung in both Spanish and English by Monroy.

The telephone number of his girlfriend inspired the opening notes of Alfonso De Elias’ “Riddle”. De Elias was a former piano teacher of Enriquez.

Five of the eight movements of Miguel Bernal Jimenez’s “Pastels” were performed, as well as “Little turtle” by Miguel Cerna Meza.

His Excellency Mr Eduardo Patricio Peña Haller (L)
with some of the presenters and performers.
 Dr Caroline Schuster (third from left), Irma Enriquez,
Jacqueline Buswell, Paola Monroy (second from right)

This interdisciplinary event on the evolution of Mexican music aimed to show identity and multiplicity, continuity and change. The journey gave us a taste of Mexican concert music and a glimpse of the colour and rhythm of native dance.