Hot off the press! Check out the review of our last concert.

May 29th, 2011

There is something to be said about making music with your friends. Syzygy Ensemble is one of those chamber ensembles that sound like they might be a scary contemporary music group but, on closer inspection, reveal themselves as a dynamic, engaging and (most importantly) fun and happy group of performers. The core members of the group brought together a number of their friends to present a recital that defied the audience’s understanding of ‘contemporary’ music. Being one of those people who often groans at the thought of a concert full of electronic enhancements to compositions that seem purpose-designed to challenge one’s thinking rather than creating a feeling of joy and enchantment in its audience, I have to admit I was slightly skeptical about the program that lay ahead. I am only too happy to report that I was – most convincingly – proved wrong.

The short program, performed without interval at the pre-dinner friendly hour of 6pm, featured works by Ross Edwards, Takemitsu, Dutch composer Theo Loevendie and Berio. Though the works were in many ways as different as chalk and cheese, the ensemble glided effortlessly between styles and tastes and warmed the audience with some truly impeccable musicianship.

The concert opened with Ross Edwards’ Laikan for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano and percussion. This work gave the performers the opportunity to explore some delicious harmonies and tone colours; the sonority of strings, wind and percussion blending effortlessly to create a peaceful atmosphere in the slow sections, against a highly energetic feeling in the outer movements. Laila Engle’s control through the flute lines was a particular highlight in this piece. To move from here to Takemitsu’s Rain Spell was a surprisingly logical progression. This was a true picturesque work, full of unobtrusive, gentle and natural quartertones (including a re-tuned harp) and the performers’ commitment to the piece really captivated the audience’s full attention. It is rare to be at a concert where the whole audience is gazing intently at the stage for whole works!

Perhaps the highlight of the evening was an astonishing rendition of Theo Loevendie’s Plus One, scored for flute, bass clarinet and piano. The performers noted they had been warned by the composer himself that the work was considered ‘unplayable’ – but they proved him wrong. Very convincingly. For me, the success of this piece was not the brute strength required of each performer to master their part and perform it in time with the others – for Syzygy, that was a given – rather, it was the raw humanity that exuded from the ensemble through each bar, each note. It is trite to say that a musician must love the music and love their colleagues, but in this case, the teamwork required to pull this piece off could only be achieved by performers who really are the best of friends. The intimacy, warmth and commitment to each other, not just the notes, set these performers apart from their peers.

A concert like this could not be complete without at least a little drama. For the final piece, Berio’s Folk Songs, we learned that due to illness, the original singer had become unavailable less than eight hours before the concert. But Sally Anne Russell stepped up and performed, on one rehearsal, a work she had not sung in more than 20 years – seemingly flawlessly. The performance was stunning. Perhaps we were all awestruck by the presence of a singer graceful yet bold enough to tackle such a huge task in a matter of hours, or perhaps it was the sheer beauty of the setting of the eleven folk songs. I would happily hear them all over again.

Overall, the recital left the audience desperate for more, sowing the seeds for a successful concert season for Syzygy Ensemble. Highly recommended.

Syzygy Ensemble – Of Foreign Lands and People
10 March 2011, Salon, Melbourne Recital Centre
Laila Engle, flutes; Julia Stoppa, clarinets; Leigh Harrold, piano; Blair Harris, ‘cello and friends*

* Sally Anne Russel- voice
Alanah Guthrie Jones- harp
Alison Rayner- Violin/viola
Tim Phillips- percussion
Ben van den Akker percussion

Concert review by Mary Sheargold as published in “The Flautist”

Leave a Reply