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Music review

Voices in the Forest 2014 spoiled by storms

Voices in the Forest 2014 was a celebratory concert ruined by capricious spring weather.

Voices in the Forest:
Featuring soloists Simon O'Neill, Inessa Galante, and Peter Coleman-Wright with Canberra singers Christina Wilson and Tim Dal Cortivo; Woden Valley Youth Choir, Oriana Chorale and the Voices in the Forest Orchestra conducted by Roland Peelman.
Sunday, November 30.

It is a testament to the power of music and the stoicism of Canberra audiences that such a large crowd turned out to hear the 2014 Voices in the Forest concert, despite an ominous weather forecast with a warning of thunderstorms.

The capricious spring weather was a disappointment, especially as the teething problems with logistics for transporting the large audience safely to the venue had been solved this year by strategic use of a fleet of specially chartered ACTION buses. An efficient team of volunteers directed car traffic and moved patrons in shuttle vehicles from the more distant car parks to the open-air seating.

Food and drink were readily available, and if the elements had been more compliant, the concert would have been idyllic. I have to confess to leaving after the second act as I was soaked, despite my raincoat.

Vigorous: Roland Peelman conducting at <i>Voices in the Forest</i>.
Vigorous: Roland Peelman conducting at Voices in the ForestPhoto: Rohan Thomson

In Act One, Canberra musicians Christina Wilson, Tim Dal Cortivo and Alan Hicks performed music from well-loved musicals, opening the evening with a light, sophisticated mood. Wilson and Dal Cortivo's voices blended well and the two clearly have a warm rapport, which is vital when these songs are performed out of their original dramatic context.

Wilson's version of Send in the Clowns was sung with wistful intensity and a thoughtful approach to lyrics that can sound banal in less focused interpretations.

Dal Cortivo has an impressive stage presence and his energetic performances of the tricky modulations in Live Alone from Dick Tracy and This is the Moment from Jekyll & Hyde demonstrated his vocal flexibility.

The Coronation Anthem: Zadok the Priest was enhanced by the procession of singers through the audience and from backstage, warming the orchestra up for the sparkling accompaniment to Inessa Galante's beautiful performances of Handel's Furie terribili and Lascia chi 'io pianga. Galante's voice has great depth and richness combined with extraordinary freedom and a sense of spontaneity. 

Impressive: Peter Coleman-Wright, one of the singers in Voices in the Forest.
Impressive: Peter Coleman-Wright, one of the singers in Voices in the Forest. Photo: Rohan Thompson

Tenor Simon O'Neill demonstrated why he has been hailed as one of the foremost singers of his generation in the aria Ombra mai fù from Handel's Serse and baritone Peter Coleman-Wright gave a lovely rendition of Voilà donc la terrible cite from Massenet's Thaïs – my favourite of the male solos.

While I love the celebratory character of the annual outdoor Voices in the Forest concert, I can't help wishing that it were an entire opera, or perhaps Broadway musical performance that was being staged in this glorious venue.

It's enjoyable to hear morsels from many productions, but the experience of being part of a great story unfolding through the transcendent language of music is unbeatable. Whatever shape the concert takes next year, I hope that the gods will be kinder with the weather.