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REVIEW: Changing Light

Thursday, 29 May, 2014

A feast of music for soprano, guitar, and flute awaited the lucky audience gathered on Saturday night at Wyslaskie Auditorium, a small but lovely venue tucked away on Melbourne University’s College Crescent.

Stuart Fisher opened the program with Takemitsu’s Into the Woods (1995) for solo guitar. Fisher is an intense, skilful musician, whose silences were as beautiful as the delicate sonorities he elicited from his guitar. The spacious soundscape of Into the Woods set the mood for quite an adventurous (if unconventional) evening of music making. Jesse McVeity’s S k y Whale tested Fisher’s skills, requiring him to play his electric guitar like a cello: held upright in his lap, while drawing a violin bow across the strings. The result was somewhat eerie but quite evocative, like the distant cry of an animal, punctuated with plaints from the melancholic alto flute.

Ariel’s Hail (2000) and Changing Light (2002), both by Finnish/French composer Kaija Saariaho were highlights of the program. Belinda Dalton’s intense soprano shimmered in duet with Naomi Johnson’s flute, particularly in the absence of guitar during Changing Light. Dalton is blessed with an agile but luscious voice, and an intensity of sound belying her diminutive frame. George Crumb’s surrealistic song cycle Frederico’s Little Songs for Children showcased Dalton’s dramatic and interpretive capabilities, journeying through bizarre descriptions of snails, hazy afternoons, crickets, and crying lizards.

Naomi Johnson proved herself as flautist-extraordinaire, deftly moving between all four of her instruments (C, alto, and bass flutes, and the piccolo) during the Crumb, to marvellous effect. In David Young’s Ara, Johnson transformed her bass flute into a percussion instrument by employing a variety of extended techniques, including singing into the flute in order to create some rather beautiful harmonics. Johnson stole the show as a compelling performer, possessing a winning combination of intelligence, warmth and beauty of tone, and impressive technical accuracy.

While unconventional, Changing Light proved to be a thoroughly enjoyable journey through contemporary chamber music, performed by three highly talented Melbourne musicians, from whom this reviewer hopes to hear more.

Changing Light:  Saturday 24 May 2014, Wyslaskie Auditorium
Belinda Dalton – Soprano
Naomi Johnson – Piccolo, and C, Alto, and Bass Flute
Stuart Fisher – Six-string, ten-string, and electric guitar