Friday, August 23, 2019

Music Theatre qualities shine through with superb piano accompaniments

"Iconic Inspiration”
Artsong Canberra
Wesley Music Centre, August 18

Reviewed by Tony Magee

Photo: Tony Magee
SOPRANO Lisa Cannizzaro, baritone Jeremy Tatchell and pianist Elena Nikulina romped through the comedic, bouncy and theatrical “Well did you evah?” by Cole Porter in a sparking opener to a varied and fascinating selection of songs inspired by or written for people of note through the 19th and 20th centuries.

In a departure from the traditional “Artsong” format which is normally the focus of these concerts, the piece even contained a dance sequence! The song shifts from standard quarter time to waltz time and finally a brisk two-step and was received with great enthusiasm by the audience.

Excellent vocal harmonies were complimented by the outstanding, sensitive and beautifully balanced piano accompaniments from Nikulina throughout the entire concert. She phrases her playing in complete sympathy and poise with the singers and for me, was the star of the show.

Both Cannizzaro and Tatchell present as theatrical performers in their stage presence and singing style, something which I enjoyed immensely. Tatchell’s biography lists an extensive array of serious classical music achievements in opera, oratorio and lieder. Curiously, there is no mention of musical theatre. He would make an outstanding Tevye in every respect - voice, looks, stance, authority and presence.

A superb bracket of four French songs associated with Don Quixote by Jacques Ibert, entitled “Quatre chansons de Don Quichotte” (note the French spelling contrasted with the more usual Spanish version), were performed by Tatchell with excellent phrasing and diction, mostly colla voce in nature, with Nikulina supporting with immense depth and feeling.

“Simple Gifts” and “At the River”, both famous settings by Aaron Copland and performed for the inauguration of many presidents of the United States, were sung beautifully and sensitively by Cannizzaro. Joaquín Valverde’s “Clavelitos” followed, most closely associated with the astonishing Florence Foster Jenkins - one of her specialty encore pieces. Unlike Jenkins, Cannizzaro pulled it off with panache and vocal styling of beauty and warmth. She has a most interesting dark timbre to her lower register, which blooms into a delightful well rounded soprano in the higher register. 

Six Australian Bush Songs by William G. James were shared by the two singers, Tatchell delivering “The Land of Who Knows Where” with a huge dramatic voice and then a thrilling finale with “The Stockrider’s Song”, during which his voice was noticeably warming up. Cannizzaro paid homage to Dame Nellie Melba with the gentle and reflective “Bush Silence” and “Bush Night Song”.

The sparkling duet “La ci darem la mano” from Mozart’s opera “Don Giovanni” opened the second half. The program also included a piece by Richard Wagner, dedicated to his long time supporter and champion, Ludwig II of Bavaria. Two duets by Felix Mendelssohn followed, commissioned by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, sung with precision and style by the two vocalists.

Of particular beauty both in the compositional style and the performance by the trio were a bracket of three pieces by Gerald Finzi, entitled “Let us Garlands Bring”. These were specially written for and dedicated to English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, celebrating his 70th birthday.

As an encore, the performers surprised everyone, including this reviewer, with the hilarious Peter Sellers and Sophia Loren classic, “Bangers and Mash”, where once again the music theatre qualities of the two singers poured forth most convincingly.

A most enjoyable afternoon of song, garnished with incredible variety and, I will add one more time, the superb piano accompaniments of Elena Nikulina.

First published in City News Digital Edition, August 19