In the first of an ingenious series of recitals devoted to the ephemeral, fleeing quality of light, and darkness, the virtuosic Italian cellist Umberto Clerici was joined with the sublime voices of Carl Crossin’s Adelaide Chamber Singers in a deeply moving selection of recent works by the late Sir John Tavener, Latvian Ēriks Ešenvalds and English choral specialist, Richard Allain. It’s often stated that the cello is the most human of instruments, with its range and affecting autumnal ‘bee in a bottle’ drone and vibrato; so the pairing of it in a simple yet masterly way, with a sublime choir makes for compositions which fall upon the ear as both contemporary and indeed timeless.

Umberto Clerici. Photo © Laura Stanca

Clerici proves the ideal successor to Steven Isserlis with a highlighted sense of simple and radiating beauty, underpinning the choir with a quiet yet authoritative sense of improvisation. Tavener was represented by two pieces – Syvati, which brought the music together behind a seemingly familiar adoption of the Slavonic (Russian Orthodox) ritual to which the composer had personally converted, whilst in Funeral Ikos, the text was an English translation from the Greek funeral service in an equally beautiful musical setting. Whilst the singers were closely aligned to the traditional rites and musical language of these rites, it was the masterly cellist who was able to improvise over them in a unique way which suggested something of the modes of the Indian raga. The opening Syvati opened with a circular continuous drone over which the rest of this seemingly simple composition swelled into life. However in these two rather short pieces, it appeared that here was deep spiritual music from the depths, encompassing the totality of life – how appropriate a musical gesture to make at this time of year when we celebrate the renewal of life at Easter and mourn the war dead on ANZAC Day. 

Adelaide Chamber Singers

The Latvian composer Ēriks Ešenvalds carried the message over into Paradise with a setting from the familiar Requiem (In Paradisum) which encompassed the microtonalism of Ligeti and the fluttering of angel wings that we associate with his near neighbour Rautavaara. Here Clerici was joined by the distinguished ASQ violist Stephen King, who with his placement at the rear of this near-perfect acoustic hall, was able to weave an appropriate sonic tapestry in which to enfold these gifted singers. Closing the concert we were drawn to the more earthly, nocturnal pursuits courtesy of Richard Allain and his setting of the Romantic poet Shelley’s Night in a more familiar post-Britten sort of passion and reverie contained within a richly chromatic and often dissonant score. And in all of these works, Crossin’s singers showed their unique abilities as a vocal group of great distinction. Add to this, the exquisite burnished acoustics of the all-wooden hall that is the true jewel of the Ukaria estate, and there is a unique quality wherein it is possible to hear the choral group in toto, but also the individual voices which coalesce, making this group such a special choir.

However drawing these deeply touching pieces together was an impassioned and almost visceral performance of the First Cello Suite by Bach. Clerici is one of those rare musicians who seemingly becomes one with his instrument. Here was a quickly paced traversal of this familiar work – one which affected the listener on a physical level as well as an emotional one. Overall it was a performance imbibed with a terse brusque sense of beauty, one wherein the dances were attacked and imbibed with a highly rustic sense of joy and identification. A great meeting of the sacred and the profane.