The singing voice is the elemental musical instrument, conveying our innermost thoughts and feelings and capturing the stories of our world. This recital of songs, all of which in some way reflect on the importance of music to a society restricted through lockdown to electronically mediated communication, brought the beauty and eloquence of the singing voice to us in the unique setting of the UKARIA concert hall.
The name UKARIA combines the initials of its founder, Ulrike Klein, with the word ‘aria’, so it was fitting that this post-lockdown performance involved the voice. The intimate UKARIA concert hall’s excellent acoustics are perfect for small to medium ensembles and solo performers; the hall is ideal for a vocalist and creates a sense of community amongst the audience.
Initially devised by renowned Adelaide soprano Bethany Hill and pianist Penelope Cashman as a response to lockdown and for online presentation, their recital, entitled To Music, was inspired by Franz Schubert’s setting of Franz von Schober’s text An die Musik, which speaks of how music can lift one’s spirits during the darkest times. Hill and Cashman’s program encompassed works from the 17th century to the present day. They opened with Let the Florid Music Praise, a setting by Benjamin Britten of a poem by his collaborator WH Auden that acted as a fanfare for this recital. We then heard Britten’s arrangement of Henry Purcell’s setting of If Music be the Food of Love, followed by Schubert’s An die Musik.
Pianist Penelope Cashman, who is also a vocal coach specialising in German lieder, told of her interest in German poetry. As well as the poem by Schober, she and Hill gave us Hugo Wolf’s setting of Anakreons Grab(Anacreon’s Grave) by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and Robert Schumann’s setting of Die Sennin (The Cowgirl) by Nikolaus Lenau. Schubert’s setting of Goethe’s Der Musensohn (the Son of the Muses), which epitomises German lieder and attests to Schubert’s mastery of this musical form, again celebrates the power of song.
As well as lieder exemplifying German Romanticism, there were three songs by Roger Quilter, representing the English art song, including settings of Shelley’s Music, When Soft Voices Dieand Blake’s The Wildflower’s Song. Hill and Cashman then turned again to Benjamin Britten for his arrangement of the deeply moving Irish traditional The Last Rose of Summer.
There was a song without words, Tchaikovsky’s Chant sans paroles, Op. 2, No 3 for piano, and there was a song for unaccompanied voice, I’ll Meet You There, a captivating realisation of a poem by the Persian poet Rumi by Australian composer Jodie O’Regan, in which Hill demonstrated great vocal power and emotional range. The heartfelt Marietta’s Song (Glück das mir verblieb) from Erich Korngold’s opera Die tote Stadt (The Dead City) muses on the inevitability of death and the possibility of transcendent love, and, in a dramatic shift of sentiment, it was followed by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Schwartz’s Simple Song, from Bernstein’s Mass, which joyously proclaims the love of God.
As well as reflecting on the importance of music to human life, this inspired sample of art songs offered the audience a concise introduction to the infinite variety of poetry that song can convey. The gems heard in this program are as important to our cultural and spiritual life as any of the great orchestral or choral works of the Western canon.
For an encore, Hill and Cashman gave us contemporary Australian composer Gavin Lockley’s setting of CJ Dennis’s comic poem The Music of Your Voice from Dennis’s 1921 collection, A Book for Kids, the last line of which goes, “I love to hear your voice”. We certainly do.