Kingfisher: Songs for Halcyon

Review by Peter McCallum Sydney Morning Herald March 2014

Concert review

Kingfisher: Songs for Halcyon lets voices soar

Halcyon is a type of Kingfisher, whose eponymous mythological forebear was credited with the power to make seas calm.

Halcyon is also a Sydney-based vocal chamber music ensemble directed by Alison Morgan and Jenny Duck-Chong, which for the past 15 years has been commissioning and performing new work for voices and instruments, creating a progressive Australian vocal repertoire and a new understanding of how to write to the voice in a post-modern age.

Next year it will reach the age of consent. To mark the milestone, it has commissioned 22 composers to write four-minute miniatures, the first 11 of which were presented at this concert.

Stuart Greenbaum's Opalescence adopted a sensuous vocal style, with slides between notes against rain-like drops from vibraphone and plucked cello. Follow Me Through the Shadow by Katy Abbott started languorously before a skittish quick coda.

Moya Henderson's I Lost a World the Other Day (text by Emily Dickinson) was reminiscent of Bach, with its well-shaped, intricate melodic line over a stylised, quasi-symbolic cello obbligato.

Nicholas Vines' gently humorous, metaphoric The King's Manifesto presented gently melismatic vocal writing against idling instruments interrupted by percussion as though they had hit a bump.

Turbulent Passions Calm by Raffaele Marcellino set Whitman's Halcyon Days in a gently meandering duet that resisted the poem's instinct towards ecstasy.

Paul Stanhope created coyly balanced vocal phrases against impatiently trilling clarinet to describe My Love in Her Attire, while obviously imagining her out of it.

For See the Prismatic Colours, John Peterson wrote the most romantically lush and rhapsodic music of the evening, while Ross Edwards' The Tranquil Mind was meditative and gently numbing.

Elliott Gyger said that, in The Pleiades at Midnight, he felt he had crammed a much longer piece into four minutes. That was true, but its complex compression was rewarding.

By contrast, Stephen Adams' Sometimes Snow Fell … was restrained, minimal and fragrant. Kevin March's Sea-blue Bird evoked soaring flight in the two voices with distant activity far beneath from the instruments.

The next Kingfisher concert is on March 29.Peter McCallum

This review appeared in The Sydney Morning Herald