Matinee of popular French works, skilfully performed alongside Piers Lane and Marshall McGuire.

Concert Hall, QPAC, Southern Cross Soloists
June 28, 2015

The Southern Cross Soloists continue to celebrate their 20th birthday in style with a matinee repertoire of popular French compositions, skilfully performed alongside special guests Piers Lane and Marshall McGuire.

The concert began with Jean-Féry Rebel’s Le Chaos, which Creative Director Tania Frazer cited as the inspiration for the concert’s title. “It was quite a revelation to me,” Ms. Frazer said of her first experience with the radical baroque work, adding that she was “surprised to find how old the piece was.” She also noted that the work would not be out of place in a modern film score, and joked that the ensemble had been channelling the famous “shower scene” from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho as they played the dramatic, dissonant piece.

The concert did not falter after its strong opening, but continued through a pleasant program of romantic classical pieces selected, according to Frazer, for their joie de vivre, a trait that was also evident in the musicians.

Soprano Margaret Schindler exercised her talent in a trio of Reynaldo Hahn’s songs, accompanied on the harp by guest artist Marshall McGuire. McGuire is a regular feature with the Southern Cross Soloists and it was a true pleasure to experience his music. Though Schindler faltered occasionally on the highest notes, she gave an emphatic and emotional performance – a personal favourite of the afternoon was her enactment of Chausson’s Chanson perpétuelle. The passion in her voice against Piers Lane’s exceptional accompaniment made the performance memorable.

In his first appearance with the Southern Cross Soloists, internationally renowned pianist Piers Lane was understandably a standout among the talent onstage. His true shining moment came in the resounding finale, Saint-Saëns’ renowned Piano Concerto No 2. Lane seemed barely to touch the keys, but never missed a note. He wrapped up the concert to rapturous applause from the audience.

Despite a broken bow string in the first piece, Patrick Murphy performed admirably on the cello and Emma Scholl was exceptional as she played Poulenc’s Flute Sonata, FP164, with Piers Lane on piano. Poulenc’s Trio for oboe, bassoon and piano was expertly executed by Tania Frazer, Lyndon Watts and Piers Lane, and Alan Smith’s performance on violin interwove beautifully with Marshall McGuire’s harp performance in Massenet’s Meditation from Thaïs.

The second-to-last piece of the performance was written by young Brisbane composer John Rotar, whose connection to the Southern Cross Soloists goes back to his high school years. Also celebrating his twentieth birthday this year, Rotar was commissioned to write a birthday vignette for French Revelations. Joyful and exciting, the two-minute performance shone a brief spotlight on each member of the ensemble individually as well as displaying their collective cohesion.

The concert had one minor drawback, which had nothing to do with the performers but with the performance venue itself. While the “intimate mode” of the Concert Hall at QPAC did indeed provide an intimate setting, with the audience in tiered seating on the stage looking down at the performers, it did so at the cost of acoustics. While I appreciated the “up close and personal” approach, I feel that both the audience and the artists would have been better served by the use of either the front few rows of the Concert Hall itself (specifically designed with classical acoustics in mind) or from a smaller venue such as the Cremorne Theatre.

Perhaps the best thing about the Southern Cross Soloists as an ensemble is the evident joy that each of them gets from being a part of the performance. Nothing guarantees that an audience will enjoy themselves, including forgiving any small mistakes, quite like performers who are genuinely in love with what they do. Here’s to 20 more years!

Southern Cross Soloists’ 20th birthday celebrations continue with Great Legends on November 22, 2015