Review: The Song Company Auckland Town Hall

By William Dart

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The Song Company's Lanneke Wallace-Wells, Richard Black, Mark Donnelly, Clive Birch, Anna Fraser, Roland Peelman, and Louise Prickett. Photo / Supplied
The Song Company's Lanneke Wallace-Wells, Richard Black, Mark Donnelly, Clive Birch, Anna Fraser, Roland Peelman, and Louise Prickett. Photo / Supplied

They descended dramatically upon us, as strolling minstrels, working their way from circle to stage, lustily singing Sumer is icumen in. Once settled, The Song Company began its journey on Tuesday night through the four seasons with spring.

The first of two 12th century songs from the original Carmina Burana, exquisitely voiced, with delicate touches of percussion alongside director Roland Peelman's authoritative drum, introduced a series of madrigals.

While Weelkes' Now is my Cloris was light as gossamer, with blithe, chirruping fa la las, the six singers made every pang count in the bittersweet moments of Schutz's O Primavera.

Summer did not live up to expectations. A second Carmina Burana offering, a bawdy hymn to Bacchus, romped through to a whistling coda and a wink of Rossini crescendo but Delius' To be sung on a summernight on the water, was not such smooth sailing when it came to intonation.

A pop set was curiously unsatisfying. The cushioning of Kate Bush's shivery instrumentals was missed when the Australians sang her Delius and Michel Legrand's The Summer Knows needed the ambience of discreet amplification to let the croon bloom; the Beatles' Good Day Sunshine was self-conscious and twee.

After interval, Peelman recited the longest and most effective reading of the evening, Autumn by Tang Dynasty poet, Ou-Yang Hsiu, after which the pristine simplicity and beauty of John Cage's The year begins to be ripe was perfectly captured by mezzo Lanneke Wallace-Wells.

Contemporary Australian contributions included Peter Sculthorpe's poignant Autumn Song with effective offstage soprano and Frank Nuyt's Old Airs, which set Les Murray verse across a brilliantly delivered panorama of vocal effects and styles.

A French bracket took us into winter. Kosma's Les Feuilles Mortes, finely focused, with arresting solos from Clive Birch, was followed by Debussy's dancing Yver, vous n'estes qu'un villain.

Yet the chiselled voicings of Poulenc's Un Soir de Neige, a chilling portrait of a city under siege, occasionally tested the ensemble.

Pete Seeger's Turn! Turn! Turn! had the feeling of an encore. Peelman's arrangement a la Bach was clever, perhaps too much so, but it was a resonant rounding-off for an enterprising concert.

- NZ Herald

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