Thursday, October 25, 2018

THE DEGENERATE AND THE FOP, Sarahlouise Owens soprano, Colleen Rae-Gerrard piano. At Wesley Music Centre, October 21.

Reviewed by Tony Magee

In this delightful program of song, presented by Sarahlouise Owens and Colleen Rae-Gerrard for Art Song Canberra, the material was eclectic and unusual, often humorous, sometimes delicate and sensitive and always very entertaining.

Photo by Peter Hislop
Owens is a skilled and experienced performer of the older European genre of cabaret, securely founded in the underground and sometimes sleazy and dangerous networks of 1920s and 1930s Berlin and even earlier in Paris. In this repertoire she has few peers. Diction, delivery and exquisite pronunciation of the two languages, combined with a beautifully flexible voice carry the songs through soft romantic delicacies, delicious sting-in-the-tail jibes, soaring crescendos and powerful high-register climaxes.

Owen’s voice also seems founded in an older school of vocal style and tone production and on several occasions during the concert, I found myself thinking of the great Maggie Teyte.

Beginning with a selection of five cabaret songs by Dominick Argento, the bracket showcased the composer’s eclectic style, which presented continuous challenges for the performers, who had to quickly turn from the unpredictable and unusual melodic and chordal structure of “Who Could Have Known” through the bawdy and funny “Luckiest Woman” to the gentle “You”, all handled with aplomb and panache.

A delightful bracket of three pieces by Poulenc followed, grouped as “Banalités”. The highlight was “Hotel” which Owens introduced as possibly “the laziest song ever written”. Rae-Gerrard’s accompaniments were exquisite during these pieces and both performers captured the mood and sublime delicacy of these beautifully.

Max Reger’s “Abschied” is a song similar in style to some of those by Mahler and Richard Strauss. Rae-Gerrard achieved a beautiful cantabile tone in several piano-only melodic passages during this and the following “Maria Wiegenlied”, this time paying homage to Brahms.

Photo: Peter Hislop
The first act closed with some of the most anticipated and appreciated repertoire by the audience and this reviewer, Satie’s “Je to veux” and “Diva du l’Empire”, superbly performed by both artists, the luscious French language once again demonstrating Owen’s mastery of it.

Highlights from Act II included three songs by Sir William Walton - all beautiful pieces with far ranging and diverse vocal melodies and piano accompaniments. 

Peter J Casey’s brilliant and satirical “I Am Sick to Death of Hearing About the Weimar Republic”, a tongue-in-cheek musical homage to Kurt Weill, was delivered with comic intensity and style, although also the only time during the recital where the balance favoured the piano a little too much. Owen’s diction in her own language, curiously, wavers somewhat and is not to the same standard as her perfect French and German. None-the-less, a still creditable performance.

Reynaldo Hahn’s “Chanson d’Autumn” and “Nocturne” saw a return to the French repertoire and were very beautiful renditions - mournful, soulful and searching - with gorgeous piano accompaniments by Rae-Gerrard.

The program concluded with Weill’s “Berlin I’m licht” and “Buddy on the Nightshift”, the latter being from his “Lunchtime Follies”, first produced in Brooklyn in 1942. The last two lines, “I’ll follow you, you’ll follow me, and how can we go wrong”, aptly summed up a fabulous and entertaining afternoon of song from two very professional performers.

First published in City News Digital Edition and also Tony's own blog.