Thursday, August 6, 2020

Vibe of delight, as audience and performers return to polished and refined "live" performance.

“Venite, Venite!” 

Luminescence Chamber Ensemble

Gorman House Gallery

August 1 2020

Reviewed by Tony Magee

I N A SUITABLY relaxed and informal atmosphere, Luminescence, in one of their many guises, performed a highly polished and refined concert of music ranging from the late Italian and English Renaissance to modern day composers.

Beginning with Claudio Monteverdi’s “Venite, Venite”, roughly translating as “Come, Come”, soprano Veronica Milroy, mezzo soprano AJ America and guitarist Benjamin Grace captured beautifully the polyphonic style of the composer, with superb harmonic blend and phrasing from the singers, aided by Grace’s sensitive and stylish guitar accompaniment.

Giovanni Legrenzi, an early Italian Baroque composer, was showcased using the same players in his piece “Lumi Potete Piangere”. In this, one could hear harmonic structures that seemed way ahead of their time.

A selection of five Elizabethan pieces from the feather ink quill of English composer John Dowland followed. “Flow My Tears”, arguably Dowland’s best known work, later re-arranged by the composer as the lute solo “Lachrimae Pavin”, was sung with passion and great feeling by tenor Dan Walker, who followed up with “Weep No More Sad Fountains”. The melancholy, heartache and despair these songs evoke came across so perfectly. With Walker’s ability to phrase and enunciate very skilfully, one could feel the immense sorrow.

Soprano Veronica Milroy, tenor Dan Walker and Mezzo Soprano AJ America.
Photo: Peter Hislop

Veronica Milroy brightened things up with Dowland’s “Awake Sweet Love”, beautifully sung with sweetness tenderness and passion.

AJ America completed the Dowland set with a move back into the somber tones of “In the Darkness Let Me Dwell” and “Can She Excuse My Wrongs”, the latter also being re-arranged by Dowland later in his life as the lute solo, “The Earl of Essex Galliard”. In these, America displayed her excellent pitch and phrasing abilities, capturing the sadness and despair of both pieces.

Throughout the Dowland set, guitarist Benjamin Grace supported the artists most sensitively, achieving a delicacy of tone that sometimes captured lute-like qualities.

It was lutenist Julian Bream and tenor Peter Pears who brought this repertoire to international attention in 1962, with the release of many recordings for RCA. Pears, incidentally, was also the life partner of composer Benjamin Britten, who featured later in the evening’s program with his arrangement of “I Will Give My Love an Apple”, exquisitely sung by America with Grace on guitar.

The Elizabethan selections closed with all three singers presenting a cappella renditions of Wilbye’s mournful “O What Shall I Do”, showcasing the group’s superb vocal intonation, followed by the bouncy triple-time “Though Philomela Lost Her Love”. 

Morley’s “With My Love My Life Was Nestled” was sung with imaginative period vocal ornamentation by America and once again demonstrating Grace’s lute-like qualities from his Australian made Paul Sheridan guitar, a most impressive instrument.

Now - a change of guitarist and a change of period and style. Minh Le Hoang won first prize in the 50th Tokyo International Guitar Competition in 2007 and is also a long-time member of the Australian quartet, Guitar Trek, founded by his mentor Tim Kain.

Playing his recently acquired and stunning sounding instrument made by Australian luthier Greg Smallman, Hoang delivered the most superb Spanish guitar accompaniments with bold projection, over which swept the voice of AJ America in two pieces by Manuel De Falla - “Jota” and “Canción”.

Dan Walker then took centre stage with Hoang on guitar, performing two pieces by Mátyás Seiber - “Reveille-vous” and “Le Rossignol”, both capturing the essence of French peasant country life with lively and engaging performances. Hoang was playing arrangements by Julian Bream, equally noted as a guitarist as he is a lutenist.

Tenor Dan Walker with guitarists Minh Le Hoang (C) and Benjamin Grace (R).
Photo: Peter Hislop

Walker completed the program with a thrilling account of the Italian Tarantella “La Carpinese”, composer unknown.  The vocal line, sung with passion and deep emotion, was complimented by wonderful countermelodies from Minh Le Hoang on guitar, with the strumming support of Benjamin Grace on second guitar and the light, gentle percussion playing of Veronica Milroy on tambourine.

The five performers took well deserved bows to very appreciative applause from the socially-distanced audience. You could feel the vibe of “isn’t this great!” swirling through the room from both the performers and the audience, as we all gently took our first, tentative steps back into the world of live performance.

First pubished in City News Digital Edition, August 2, 2020