Singer-composer Lior and composer-conductor Nigel Westlake.
Melbourne Symphony Orchestra
Myer Music Bowl
Opening the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra's Myer Music Bowl free concerts, Saturday night's program centred on the song cycle Compassion, a collaboration between composer-conductor Nigel Westlake and singer-composer Lior.
Already performed in Sydney, Perth and Adelaide, this was its first outside exposure; as with Westlake's Missa Solis, it would benefit from an airing in Hamer Hall conditions where a listener's focus is less challenged by ambient noise and intrusive inter-sectional applause.
The collaborators have used Hebrew and Arabic texts, celebrating the humane vision of both Prophet and rabbi of a world without ideological burdens like Eretz Yisrael or intifada. The work comprises seven sections, beginning with a Sim Shalom that sets a high standard in its use of Lior's vocal range, particularly his splendid upper register.
While not quoting traditional songs, apart from the moving prayer Avinu Malkeinu that finishes the cycle, Westlake and Lior employ a range of modes, melismata and ornaments that suggest much Eastern Mediterranean music. The melody lines are wide-ranging, Lior using his microphone to telling effect, while Westlake's orchestrations surround the singer with muted ambient richness.
Compassion was given an enthusiastic reception. It makes for easy listening, a soothing and congenial experience without hard edges.
Benjamin Northey ably conducted the first half, comprising Bernstein's Symphonic Dances from West Side Story and Gershwin's An American in Paris. Both enjoyed lavish treatment with only a few problems in balance and articulation.