LIMELIGHT February 2022 ★★★★ "Pocket edition of Brahms’s great humanitarian masterpiece is still writ large"
Two starkly contrasting settings – one a Renaissance chapel, the other a 19th-century living room – formed the imaginary backdrop to The Song Company’s launch of their 2022 season. Artistic Director Antony Pitts said the concert was partly in memoriam Australian composer Nigel Butterley, whose death was announced earlier that day, but also to 'those we have loved and lost'... Eleven minutes of glorious 16th-century polyphony with Thomas Tallis’s Sancte Deus, welded seamlessly onto Marc’Antonio Ingegneri’s Tenebrae factae sunt, featured The Song Company’s core members joined by The SongCo Apprentices – 12 hand-picked young singers making their debut before an audience. This made for a superbly balanced opening, with a rich blend of voices negotiating the tricky interweaving harmonies. Pitts asked the audience to imagine itself in the 'intimacy of a 19th-century salon' for the remainder of the concert: two works by Brahms, culminating in the magnificent German Requiem...
Revered Australian pianist Gerard Willems was joined by The Song Company’s Associate Artistic Director Francis Greep... Willems and Greep played Brahms’ own four-handed version of the Variations on a Theme of Haydn (St Antony Variations), which he wrote concurrently with the orchestral version... the perfect appetiser for the main course. There were 27 singers on stage for the seven-part Requiem, including guest bass-baritone Tasmanian-born Christopher Richardson, whose resonant and powerful timbre was a feature of the third part, 'Lord let me know mine end'... with Pitts directing and the two pianos doing a wonderful job this was a cohesive and well prepared performance. British soprano Amy Moore, now a Song Co. mainstay, was radiant in her solo 'Ye now have sorrow', her creamy rich tone, clear diction and faultless intonation making this consolatory aria a highlight. This gorgeous piece, along with Moore and Chloe Lankshear’s duet at the start of the final movement, left this listener wishing that Brahms had tackled an opera... If you can watch the upcoming livestream on Australian Digital Concert Hall you certainly won’t regret it. (Steve Moffatt)
classikON Feburary 2022 "The Song Company’s everlasting joy"
The Song Company’s first MainStage performance of the year was a remarkable and moving event. It was remarkable in that it featured the new concept of The SongCo Apprentices, mentored by the brilliant members of The Song Company, who formed the core of the choir and also included students from the Conservatorium High School. This very youthful choir was accompanied by the eminent Gerard Willems and Francis Greep on two grand pianos. It was moving due to the music, its content and context, and, above all, the exquisite performance. The setting of The City Recital Hall was perfect, with beautiful lighting setting off the performers...
The concert opened with the combined choirs singing Sancte Deus by Thomas Tallis and Tenebrae factae sunt by Marc’Antonio Ingegneri. Antony Pitts’s sensitive conducting brought out the magic of their interweaving voices with their superb intonation in these a cappella pieces of 16th-century polyphonic music. The liturgical content dealing with death, plus the polyphonic structure, foreshadowed what was to come after the interval with Brahms’s Ein deutsches Requiem (the Tenebrae factae sunt by Marc’Antonio Ingegneri was included in Brahms’s own music library).
Antony Pitts then introduced the pianists: special guest, Gerard Willems and Francis Greep, who is also General Manager and Associate Artistic Director of The Song Company. They played Brahms’s Variations on a Theme by Haydn, specifically written for two pianos in 1873... Gerard Willems and Francis Greep played this with gusto and virtuosity, highlighting each pianist’s expertise. They were to do so again in the piano accompaniment to Brahms’s Ein deutsches Requiem, echoing its first London performance in 1871. This arrangement enabled the choristers to shine...
After the interval, we waited with anticipation, while Antony Pitts got the choirs’ absolute attention. The two pianos gradually, soothingly, whispered into audibility. The choirs did likewise... 'Selig sind...die da Leid tragen' ('Blessed are they that mourn') with the sibilant alliteration of the German words reflecting the feeling of whispering. The sopranos’ pure, high notes remained restrained as the volume and passion increased. This first movement quotes the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. Although an agnostic himself, Brahms had carefully researched and chosen suitable passages from the Lutheran Bible. This work is sacred rather than liturgical... The overall feeling of this work is one of being comforted in sorrow with the promise of everlasting joy in the afterlife. The second movement opened with a sonorous funeral march, the low voices singing the lines 'Denn alles Fleisch ist wie Gras' ('All Flesh is as Grass') with wistful overtones. When the singing increased in volume, it became almost brutal in its urgency.
This was counterbalanced by the lighter female voices singing 'So seid nun geduldig, lieben Brüder' ('Therefore be patient, dear brothers'). The movement continued with an almost harrowing fugue of victory and joy... Christopher Richardson sang a beautiful solo in the third movement, with soft interjections from the choir, which became more urgent with the intensity of the message, ending in another energetic contrapuntal fugue. This was followed by the popular 'Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen' ('How lovely are Your dwelling places'), which was lyrically sung with lilting rhythms, followed by uplifting proclamations of joy. The beautiful, keening soprano voice of Amy Moore opened the fifth movement, which unfolded into a warm and gentle reassurance, accompanied by the choir... Then came the dazzling 6th movement, which begins as an uneasy expression of impermanence and climaxes with 'Tod, wo ist dein Stachel?' ('Death, where is your sting?'), followed by a joyful fugue 'Herr, du bist würdig zu nehmen Preis und Ehre und Kraft' ('Lord, You are worthy to receive glory, honour, and power')... The opening of the beautiful last movement... 'Selig sind die Toten' ('Blessed are the dead') – almost a bookend to the opening. After many seconds of silent reverie, the audience burst into cheers and enthusiastic applause. Remarkable and moving indeed! (Heidi Hereth)