Southern Cross Soloists continue their tradition of excellence, contributing to Queensland’s unique music scene.

Concert Hall, QPAC

March 30, 2014

For a venerable old Queensland favourite approaching their 19th year, the Southern Cross Soloists sure don't seem overly geriatric. Their premiere performance for the year, Kiss me, Katherina, was a delightful and charming interpretation of the works of William Shakespeare and showed no signs of age whatsoever. Above all the concert was a lot of fun, full of antics and mickey-taking in the best Australian style. The Soloistsí take absolutely nothing seriously except their music.

The program was pretty eclectic – the title is a witty amalgamation of the works by Cole Porter and William Shakespeare. The concert started baroque, traversed semi-obscure French romance and ended with Porter's hilarious music for the theatre. The performance was held together by Shakespeare and his songs of love, lust and hatred of men. Thomas Arne's Baroque laments Where the Bee Sucks and On a Day Alack the Day were early highlights. Regular soprano Margret Schindler's interpretation of Purcell's music from The Fairy Queen was as theatrical as it was musically brilliant. She continues to be a real star, particularly when given Baroque chamber music to enjoy.

One of the chief delights was tenor Alexander Lewis whose high notes were spectacular. Lewis' warm, gorgeous tone was just effortless – particularly his middle-register. His stage musical background also served him well: his performance was exciting, theatrical and entertaining. Some cruel decision determined that he must dance, sing and act in multiple styles and accents in the same concert (Margret Schindler did this as well). Both of them proved unbelievably versatile.

As the concert moved on, the Baroque was literally trundled away, with Kevin Power shifting from a harpsichord to a piano. The change was both pronounced and welcome – for all the delights of the old harpsichord the louder modern instrument allowed a wider dynamic range from the rest of the ensemble – but I wonder whether he ought to have been playing the Celesta – Ernest Chausson's music for La Tempeste is, apparently, the first ever written for the instrument.

In fact, Chausson's enchanting setting of The Tempest deserves to be better known. It's a strikingly pretty piece, I thought, one of the highlights of the concert. Power's accompaniment was spot on. His playing was musical, lyrical, entertaining and touching, but he was even better when not noticed at all. It's the usual refrain: the accompanist is the forgotten genius of every ensemble.

Speaking of lyrical and entertaining, Dermond Tutty is another composer that doesn't get the recognition he deserves. His setting of The Taming of the Shrew, written for and premiered in Kiss Me, is a little like a cross between Schubert and Korngold and I loved every minute of it. The work was meant to be a cut-down version of the Shakespeare, including a handful of scenes from the play. In this wildly succinct Shrew, the title role was ably played by Johancee Theron, with the improbably Texan Zac Kelty hilarious as Petruchio. Tutty has a beautiful way with melody, and a film-composerís way with drama. I very much hope that this work will be played again.

The only slight problem I had with the concert was its setting. Instead of playing the Cremorne Theatre or some other hall designed specifically for chamber music, it was held facing backwards towards the choir rises in the main Concert Hall at QPAC, where the audience was seated. I'm not sure why this was done – it created problems hearing the lyrics in the odd song, and it certainly made it much harder for the performers. The otherwise empty hall behind the ensemble was also slightly depressing – by rights it should have been packed! Perhaps the answer lies in Brisbane's annoying paucity of good acoustics for such music.

The Southern Cross Soloists really are one of the ensembles that make Queensland music unique (another is the experimental chamber music group Topology). This is one of their first performances sans French horn player Peter Luff – a hat tip to Sharn McIver for ably filling his shoes. Incredibly, the King of Australian Clarinet, Paul Dean, still finds time to play with them, despite living in Melbourne!

It occurs to me that perhaps this is what makes the ensemble special; nobody needs to play with the Southern Cross Soloists. They like to. And that comes across on stage. Every member of the audience walked away from this performance with a smile on their face and laughing. Between the unrepentant cheekiness of Andrew Lewis and Dean's outright larrikinism, the concert was more than just music, it was very great fun.