Peninsula Summer Music Festival review: Unfamiliar sounds surprisingly resonant

Mornington Peninsula, until January 10

Now in its ninth year, this festival covers a wide field, from the Stiletto Sisters ringing changes on gypsy and Latin American dance to the world/jazz/folk fusion featuring the Tawadros​ brothers with pianist Matt McMahon. 

Along the way, Paul Grabowsky and Vince Jones feature in open air entertainment, Indian flute and table will collaborate in a recital next Friday, and percussionist Matt Stonehouse holds the centre in an Eastern collaboration from Israel to Java.

However, the core of the week is serious Western music, often shooting off at tangents from mainstream repertoire.

Two excellent illustrations of artistic director Julia Fredersdorff​'s embrace of the unfamiliar came early in the festival: a vocal quartet accompanied by Rosemary Hodgson's lute presenting early 17th century French court songs, and tenor Tyrone Landau and guitarist Geoffrey Morris picking over musical oddments that survived, and sometimes supported, Napoleon's occupation of Europe.

The British enjoy a formidable heritage, represented by an impressive chain of Tudor and Stuart composers whose French contemporaries have been sidelined to the extent that most of Hodgson's program was unfamiliar.

Soprano Vivien Hamilton, countertenor Christopher Roache,​ tenor Paul Bentley-Angell and bass Stephen Grant gave generally convincing accounts of works by Pierre Guedron,​ Antoine Boesset​ and Francois Richard, among others. Nearly all these attested to an elegant lyricism, best exemplified in the Guedron pieces which involved every singer: fluent, to the point, expressive without flamboyance, these were a welcome introduction to this neglected musical byway. Of the solo songs, Bentley-Angell impressed for a deftly phrased Cruel tyran by Boesset, featuring a memorable piano patch.

Landau and Morris began their First Empire journey with a militaristic song by Napoleon's step-daughter, establishing a performance style that initially startled but soon proved effective. The tenor introduced each program segment with an ebullience that carried into his singing, as clear and secure as ever. Hortense de Beauharnais​ gave place to Garat​ and Biangini​ love songs of sorts, moving to Italians Carulli​ and Crescentini,​ then German songs by Giuliani, some scraps by Fernando Sor, and finally a plangent lament in English for the Duc d'Enghien.​ Morris employed two surprisingly resonant Romantic era instruments.