Katie Noonan & Brodsky Quartet: With Love and Fury
QPAC & Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University
QPAC Concert Hall
April 28 2016
Reviewed by Xanthe Coward
There is not a voice in the world more evocative or more exquisite than Katie Noonan’s. Her latest collaborative magic trick, with the world class Brodsky Quartet, is testament to Noonan’s vocal mastery, and her endless cycle of creative genius and generousity.
Australia is for us not a country but a state of mind. We do not speak from within but from outside. From a state of mind that describes rather than expresses its surroundings or from a state of mind that imposes itself upon rather than lives through landscape and event.
– Judith Wright, Because I Was Invited (1975)
“I forgot how much I love poetry.”
I painted a picture from the attic window named “The People Who Live in Victoria Street” – John Olsen
Elena Kats-Chernin’s Late Spring is the perfect opener, bringing us the sounds of the earliest morning, the light barely appearing, a pale moon barely visible, disappearing yet reluctant to leave its place in the sky. Women believe in the moon. Women believe in the moon. Such sweet sadness, such longing, a lifetime of memories…and of hope.
The moon drained white by day
lifts from the hill
where the old pear-tree fallen in the storm
springs up in blossom still.
Women believe in the moon:
this branch I hold
is not more white and still than she
whose flower is ages old,
and so I carry home
flowers from the pear
that makes such obstinate tokens still
for fruit it cannot bear.
David Hirschfelder’s To A Child transports us (and it’s not until I re-read the poem later that I wonder about its dark lens). At the time it feels like smiling, tiptoeing towards the child’s room after nine o’clock to see if she is reading or sleeping or struggling with difficult dreams…or not even there, stolen away by gypsies or goblins…it’s sometimes my greatest fear. The violins (and viola dart playfully around the voice while the cello grounds us. There’s such tenderness in this piece; it could be a letter to my ten-year-old self, or to my turning-ten-year-old daughter. It sounds like discovery and wonder, and those moments when we glance up from what we’re doing to take in the smallest detail, to let the sun warm our cheeks and forget the evil of the world.
Paul Dean’s haunting composition for Sonnet for Christmas gives a nod to Michael Nyman, and Andrew Ford’s After the Visitors begins with a bit of the baroque and goes the way of John Bucchino’s gentle manipulation of the emotions in Sepia Life. The house – or the heart – asks, “Is it you again alone?” Judith Wright’s words are so, so emotive, conjuring images of our country’s aching, yearning soul as it prises open my own.
We are old companions, self.
We can go on, sometimes in love, sometimes
With the old pang, the old delight
The living balance between waking, waking and
Katie Noonan’s The Surfer (with arrangement for strings by Steve Newcomb) is one of my favourite original pieces of the evening, evoking the mystery and majesty and security of the ocean. He thrust his joy against the weight of the sea… she lilts and sighs into the end of this delicate piece, just beautiful.
I love Iain Grandage’s work and in Night after Bushfire we are taken to a chilling, desperate place. Did you see The Rabbits? The Secret River? Grandage handles melody with the same mastery Wright had with words. Then there is the deep sweetness, sadness and acceptance of Paul Grabowsky’s Company of Lovers. It’s actually incredible just how personal each piece becomes, and yet Judith Wright was remembered by her daughter, Meredith McKinney, as saying, “the personal is not interesting. It’s what is beyond the personal that is of importance.” Perhaps this is The Slope (Carl Vine). And yet…
We often hear Noonan muse over the awesome power of music…
John Rodgers’ Failure of Communication is an intense attack on the senses, finishing abruptly and leaving us to recognise the silences between us. Richard Tognetti’s deceptively gentle treatment of Metho Drinker is utterly compelling and ultimately heartbreaking; it’s a careful, mournful, soulful ode to inebriation and the peace that death will bring, although there is violence in the col legion – is that the correct term? It’s perhaps the most unforgettable piece of the night because of it’s open, weeping dismay.
His white and burning girl, his woman of fire,
creeps to his heart and sets a candle there
to melt away the flesh that hides from bone,
to eat the nerve that tethers him in time.
He will lie warm until the bone is bare
and on the dead dark moon he wakes alone.
It was for Death he took her; death is but this;
and yet he is uneasy under her kiss
and winces from that acid of her desire.
It’s a sombre end to the first set. After Interval we are treated to three works, collectively titled Australian Triptych: Peter Sculthorpe’s short and sweet From Nourlangie, Ford’s bittersweet Cradle Song…in fact, it’s completely devastating and I realise a tear slides down my cheek as the song disappears, giving way to Robert Davidson’s beautifully lively and evocative Stradbroke.
I love hearing again, Bjork’s Hyperballad (Noonan brings so much more richness and love to it than fear), the magical Possibly Maybe, and the exquisite Love’s My Song For You. Paul Cassidy’s arrangement of Elvis Costello’s I almost had a weakness is a delight. Sting’s Fragile (Noonan’s vocal interpretation and Cassidy’s arrangement for strings) includes a couple of violent, really terrifying moments in case you’d forgotten the extent of the damage we’ve done to the earth already; it’s achingly simple and poignant after that, and the addition of the voices of everyone in the space makes it another favourite, the collective choral sadness and sense of community – the longing – lingering still.
Katie Noonan never ceases to amaze me. To have brought together Brodsky Quartet and some of our country’s greatest composers for this world premiere landmark event is an astonishing accomplishment.
With Love and Fury is a stunning collaboration; an incredibly beautiful, evocative song cycle encapsulating the haunting, shifting beauty and history of Australia.
The Quartet is named after the great Russian violinist Adolf Brodsky, dedicatee of Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto and a passionate chamber musician. Daniel Rowland plays a violin made by Lorenzo Storioni of Cremona in 1793; Ian Belton’s violin is by Gio. Paolo Maggini c.1615 and Paul Cassidy plays on La Delfina viola, c. 1720, courtesy of Sra. Delfina Entrecanales. Jacqueline Thomas plays a cello made by Thomas Perry in 1785.
Production pics by Darren Thomas