Wit and affection for new music make for an accessible program.

August 15, 2014

Salon, Melbourne Recital Centre

A seventy minute solo recital might prove a difficult sell for many performers, but Friday evening saw a full MRC Salon to welcome pianist and vocalist Lisa Moore in her concert titled From Me to You. Her warm, affable presence spoke of one comfortable on stage, and at home with creating intimacy in a sizeable audience. Not only that, her witty observations and genuine affection for the upcoming music was palpable. What could have been a difficult program was completely accessible. 

Moore began the evening’s program with two fundamental examples of Philip Glass’ minimalist idiom – his Metamorphosis I and IV. Glass is a divisive composer, but their inclusion was a perfect prelude for the evening to come. Both Metamorphosis I and IV acted as a tonic to a busy day, and transfixed the audience through their surging inevitability.

In Metamorphosis I, Moore took the ample opportunities that are presented in the phrasing, and avoided the material becoming clunky or boring. The dropping tone motif was especially delicate and poignant at Moore’s fingertips. The Metamorphosis IV stepped up the tempo, and moved the evening to darker and more aggressive direction.

Intimacy and Resistance was the first item to showcase Lisa Moore as not just a pianist, but also as a skilled vocal performer. Introduced as a modern popular song, the young American composer Ted Hearn had set the words of contemporary writer, Allison Carter. The text charmingly mulled over the reality of a failing relationship, and the accompaniment danced fluidly over the entirety of the keyboard. In her introduction Moore wondered if Hollywood might beckon for the talented Hearn, and one can hear where this assumption stems. The work has echoes of an Irving Berlin, if he had contemporary chromatic sensibilities. Moore voice was not beautiful in tone, but captivating in its delivery. It reminded one of a talented jazz interpreter, singing as if the text is coming to her in the moment.

Australian composer William Gardiner wrote the next item, Little Room. It was commissioned by Moore as part of a larger project that pays tribute to her Irish heritage. In his brief introduction Gardiner spoke with elegance about the ‘Earl Gray Scheme’, the migration of female Irish orphans, which served as the basis for the piece. The work opens with pre-recorded sound, clustered tones layered upon the sound of water hitting a boat’s side.  The piano emerges from the depths of the electronic tape, while Moore sings a list of typical items these women might have owned, and then descriptions of the various orphans themselves. The water re-emerges, and swallows the piano’s supple melody. Over the sounds of the waves, Moore played a subdued jig on the melodica, before fading away.   

Ishi’s Song was the final piece in the first half, written by American composer Martin Bresnick. The work started with a unison fragment for piano and voice, a direct transcription of the American medical healing piece, Maidu Doctor’s song. Abandoning the voice, the piano then paid homage to Glass’ minimalist vernacular. Unlike Glass, Bresnick built upon the original fragment. The theme endlessly looped, spinning forward with unstoppable inertia from the upper echelons where it began. Bresnik masterly developed the polyphonic layers, climaxing to full harmonically stretch using the fullness of the keyboard. Crescendo fulfilled, he peeled the layers gently away, before returning to the original idea.     

Two of Brett Dean’s settings of Michael Leunig’s text welcomed Lisa Moore back to the stage. The agile and spidery passages of Equality climbed as deftly up the keyboard, as Bresnik’s harmonies had gently descended. In stark contrast was the song Prayer, an introverted call to God, asking him “to play with us”. Deans has a particular talent for musical wit, as seen when the audience elicited giggles after Moore defiantly declared in the opening work, “All men are bastards!”

Rzewski’s De Profundis for speaking pianist, was the largest work for the evening. In the wake of Dean’s brevity, it served as an emotional king hit for the audience. The text of the piece comes from Oscar Wilde’s epistle of the same name, his eighty-page, unedited letter to his former lover, Lord Alfred Douglas. Written while Wilde was imprisoned for crimes of homosexuality, he muses a stream of consciousness on the topics of his romantic failings, the longevity of art, and his spiritual development. Rzewski’s music is as fluid as the words are in subject matter. The piano is sparse and angular one moment, but almost instantly sentimental and delicate the next. He provides supportive bed of sound that directly connects to the topic at hand.

After a rousing reception at the conclusion to the Rzewski, Moore considered that there wasn’t much room for anything after that performance, but played the gentle sombre ode (and should be noted – the oldest item on the program) I Think It’s Going To Rain Today by the late Randy Newman. After the virtuosic showstopper of De Profundis, it was nice to reconnect with Moore’s genuine ability to deliver a lyric.

This was a superb recital by a unique and talented performer.