St James’ Church, Sydney
December 2, 2017
Joe Geia’s wonderfully evocative exploration of Indigenous identity Yil Lull, sandwiched between Byrd’s 16th-century Lullaby and local composer Brian Kogler’s Pie Jesu, encapsulated the wide-ranging emotional scope of The Song Company’s Lully Lulla. A thoughtful programme that explored themes of dispossession, grief and violence, Lully Lulla never felt just edifying, with the six singers – three women and three men – along with conductor Antony Pitts providing just enough lightness of touch to make it go down a treat. Instead of a straight recital, here they presented English and Australian carols both old and new, stitched together in a kind of medieval nativity narrative through spoken dialogue from The Pageant of the Company of Shearman and Tailors.
The Song Company. Photo: supplied.
As always, the singers produced a rich, full sound that belied the handful of people onstage, shifting from moods of sorrow to joy to playfulness at the drop of a hat. While their spoken dialogue was more well-drilled than spontaneously realised or lived in, the beauty and freshness they brought to old favourites such as Byrd’s A Carowle for Christmas Day more than made up for it. Highlights included Brian Kogler’s fabulously jaunty Gaudete, which saw the singers finding a propulsive, almost elastic way with the thudding rhythms while maintaining a warm, liquid sound.
More impressive still was the deep repose of Antony Pitts’ arrangement of Miryam’s Lullaby, taken from The Patmos Book of Carols. With the haunting refrain of “behold… a sword shall pierce through thine own soul also that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed”, the women’s voices unfurled with ever-increasing intensity, finding different colours and intentions for the repetition of “Yeshua, my Yeshua”. The three female vocalists – soprano Chloe Lankshear, soprano Anna Fraser, and mezzo Hannah Fraser – also brought this stillness to the anguish of Thomas Mawdycke’s Coventry Carol, which famously depicts the Massacre of the Innocents, with a haunting blend achieved with the male singers (tenor Richard Black, baritone Mark Donnelly, and bass-baritone Andrew O’Connor) and a beautiful solo contribution from Donnelly. Here they were ably led by Pitts, who brought forth an account steeped in sorrow yet remarkably cogent.
Meanwhile, The Angel Gabriel from The Patmos Book of Carols found the singers plumbing near-sepulchral colours, nimbly navigating the trickier-than-it appears vocal lines with ease. They brought this same dexterity to Pitts’ arrangement of For unto us a Child is born, now finding a beautiful, shimmering tone that suffused their words with both mystery and joy. The women in particular found a sympathetic unity, seeming to speak rather than sing as one.
Yet while the singers’ diction was at a high standard for most of the evening, Mawdycke’s Doune from heaven, from heaven so hie needed more bite to the words to put it across most effectively, with perhaps more care taken to the dynamics chosen. A softer overall attack would have made this piece even more effective.
Other highlights of the evening must include bass-baritone Andrew O’Connor’s lovely Yil Lull, who combined exemplary diction with the sweetest of sounds. The evening came to a close with Kogler’s Pie Jesu, with the singers producing a soft glow as they exited the church one by one.
Lully Lulla plays at various venues until December 16.