Where the Heart Is

Bay 20, CarriageWorks

Sydney Morning Herald, September 15, 2010
Reviewed by Peter McCallum

From static to dynamic, and magic in between

This typically thoughtful program, Where the Heart Is, drew out themes of recent Australian vocal music through elegant symmetry. Each half began with works that built on static harmonies and turned away from Western music's complexity.

Ross Edwards's Maninya pieces move from a slow rhapsodic improvisation around a seventh chord to a quick section with rhythms that add notes unpredictably, urging the other on like a collective sacred dance. In Maninya I, for voice and cello, the origin is non-Western but non-specific, creating a sense of personal ritual.

Anne Boyd's Cycle of Love, for voice, flute, cello and piano, alludes to Korean styles and instruments, setting five ancient haiku-like texts by anonymous women poets. Mezzo soprano Jenny Duck-Chong maintained mesmeric concentration, even in a somewhat dry and unforgiving acoustic.

The second works of each half turned from the spiritual to the temporal world's dissonance, fracturing and deceit. Elliott Gyger's Petit Testament uses one of James McAuley and Harold Stewart's ''Ern Malley'' hoax poems. One detects the authors' schadenfreude as they planted booby-trap metaphors, close enough to poetic language to resemble poetry but far enough away for laughter when the trap is sprung (although the texts have exerted more enduring fascination than either intended).

Gyger's setting was delightfully stiff and contrived, relishing the polished artistic surface and letting it unravel.

Mary Finsterer's Sentence for Dinner fragmented the text with precision.

The final works were song cycles. Andrew Schultz's To the Evening Star is symmetrical and applies diverse styles to 19th-century English poetry, sometimes conspiring in the allurement of their picture painting (as in the outer poems by Yeats and Blake) and sometimes subverting it (the quick, spiky setting of Hopkins). The central poem by Wordsworth, full of self doubt, drew warmth and empathy from soprano Alison Morgan.

Ruth Lee Martin's Wimmera Song Cycle, sung by Duck-Chong and Morgan, adopted an ambient style, with the outback images of Kevin Hart's poetry creating a sense of cushioning reverence.