Flowers of War: 1917 –The Night is darkest before the Dawn; the High Court of Australia, 6.30pm Wednesday November 8, 2017.
What a magnificent concert! In the third and final of the 2017 Flowers of War series, Christopher Latham brought together an ensemble of exceptional musicians to perform a perfectly balanced program of works from World War I and newly composed works. Those playing were Timothy Young, piano; Louise Page, soprano; Christina Wilson, mezzo; Paul Goodchild, trumpet; Timothy Brigden, percussion; and the Sculthorpe String Quartet: Veronique Serret, violin; Chris Latham violin; James Wannan, viola and David Pereira, cello. No space could have been better suited to the emotional gravity and acoustic requirements of the repertoire than the High Court with its soaring columns, high spacious ceiling and windows capturing the setting sun.
Each musical work represented a landmark event in the year 1917. Lili Boulanger's exquisite piano trio D'un soir triste established the reverential atmosphere for the concert. Moving from slow, gracious, piano chords with Pereira's distinctively warm cello soaring above, the parts become increasingly complex and dissonant – almost at war with each other, to a climactic unison and returning to a softer conversation and sorrowful resolution.
Paul Goodchild's performance on solo trumpet in Nigel Westlake's Tuba Mirum from The Diggers' Requiem consolidated the sense that the musicians were connecting with the spirit of World War I and reaching for a better future. The contrast of the clear phrasing of the opening notes with the assertive flutter tonguing and cataclysmic sound of the timpani created a dramatic version of this work.
Louise Page sang with heart and soul and mind to fill the cathedral-like space with a stunning performance of Ivor Gurney's Even Such is Time. Christina Wilson's following two songs: Vimy Ridge and Lacrimosa: The Fields of Bullecourt were delivered with her customary artistic commitment, but I thought that these were perhaps lesser compositions in the entirety of the program and did not offer her the chance to shine as she did when she could really engage with the depth of her range and vocal skill as she did in her expressive version of Chanson de Craonne and Latham's Pie Jesu.
To conclude the first half, Louis Vierne's ethereal Sur une tombe created a feeling of light beyond the darkness in the harmonisation, translated sensitively by the quartet with Young's piano. Young also began the second half with an electric performance of Prokofiev's Toccata from 1916, to represent the Russian Revolution in the sequence of events illustrated by the music. The sounds he coaxed from the venerable Kawaii were breathtaking, and the audience visibly leaned further forward, drawn by the irresistible energy of this master musician. Sibelius's Finlandia followed on solo piano, forming a pleasing contrast with Kats-Chernin's The Silent Field, in which the ensemble created transparent layers of sound with Pereira drawing rich reverberant sounds from the cello.
Richard Mill's Charge at Beersheba for trumpet and ensemble is an elegant composition and was given a memorable performance on this occasion – the strings squabbling against a cloud of timpani vibrations, and the trumpet soaring triumphant over all. Again, in her rendition of Benjamin Dale's Come Away Death, Louise Page lit up the space, and Wannan's viola was the perfect counterfoil for the vocal line.
Die Goldnen Winde, written in 1917/18 by Erwin Schulhoff provided an opportunity for some almost Wagnerian dramatic moments and complimented the final, peaceful Pie Jesu in which the audience participated with great emotional effect. After curating such a concert, it is no wonder that Chris Latham was awarded the Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Ambassador on Remembrance Day.
Morning & Afternoon Newsletter