An evening of dense choral harmonies and brilliant vocal flourishes featured four world premieres and some company favorites at Vanguard Consort’s Studio 2022 recital at Freo’s Old Customs House on Saturday.
SORTED by Shruthi Rajasekar was an Australian premiere at Vanguard’s June gig, his leitmotif “See it, say it, sorted!” taken from a British Transport Police notice, announcing the message and then settling to a rhythmic chant.
Tenors Kieran Lynch and Stefan Pugliese took the lead with a warmer melody before launching into a chorus of sopranos Georgia Crowe and Kira O’Dell, mezzo Lydia Gardiner, altos Gabrielle Scheggia and Maduvanthi Venkatesan, baritones Alex Wheeler and Curtis Novacsek and bass Jack Kay. ; the 10 pieces recombining for the final.
Sydney composer Julia Vlahogiannis presented the first premiere, Intertwined; workshop with Vanguard and drawing on jazz and the influences of “Balinese gamelan”.
The warm light signaled a shift in mood, ushering in sustained notes on the male vocals with rhythmic, mechanical reflections in the female lines. The tone morphed into a conventional refrain and then back, blending and repeating with anthemic accents before resolving into unison and breaking into rhythmic expression again; fade to close.
UWA student Rose Russell was next with Agnus Dei, inspired by Samuel Barber’s version and exploiting, Russell said, many open vowel sounds in three lines of sacred text, with “spice” added in Vanguard workshops.
Cool blue light set the stage for a startling introduction; soprano dominating a dense soundscape. The repetition of the title line conducted gradually in more conventional tenor voice then recovered the complexity of the opening; tightly stacked polyphonic notes building a kaleidoscopic wall of sound.
The control of tone and pitch was both exacting and refined in delivery by voices well matched for strength and quality, exploring the void of the ceiling above the audience in an authentic cathedral ambiance.
From divine to demonic, Melbourne polymath David Whyatt presented his setting of the witches’ song from Macbeth, A Babboon’s Blood; taking the “strange sisters” of Shakespeare’s tragedy on a cinematic journey to resolution in F sharp.
Warmer lighting unleashed cacophonous cacophony and chatter, half baboon, half sorcery, with Bard lines interspersed with towering chords, and chromatic progressions adding drama to the well-known chorus: “Double, double labor and trouble ; The fire is burning and the cauldron bubble.
The singing was laced with an almost childlike taste as the music soared and swirled in sync with the witch’s spell, adding intrigue with a hint of a danse macabre before the final stanza: “Cool it with a baboon’s blood, Then the charm is firm and good.”
Definitely something nasty is happening around here.
UWA student Madeleine Hammond completed the quartet with Mirage, a meditation on the ‘differently’ nature of rural Australia and the bushfires of 2019-20. A former participant in the Vanguard Studio series, Hammond said she knows the choir and was encouraged to explore more.
A sonic opening exuded a sense of foreboding, with hints of strong winds of fortune, onomatopoeia and more conventional chanting:
Sunken mirage in the red desert
Quiet and stuffy
The breath of the wind is sucked in and does not expire.
A combination of breath attacks and then full choral harmony created dystopian music of the spheres evoking a sense of isolation, even alienation; landing at the end on an unresolved agreement.
Concluding, Vanguard picked up Consort Coordinator Gardiner’s Saturday Night Poetry, which premiered at the June gig.
Originally a costumed performance of a poetic slam set to music, this time the sets were minimal but no less effective. Vignettes and sketches broken down into monologues and dialogues accompanied by an often silent, sometimes absurd chorus; finally reforming as a 10-piece performance art group.
Finally, Poetry by Dead Men – by Sara Bareilles and Justin Tranter, directed by Pugliese, who also hosted the evening – presented perhaps the most straightforward palette of the night; the consort sounding softly in the background for Venkatesan’s poppy solo.
Subtle harmonies and hand percussion evoked innocence in expression and a warm conclusion.