Coupling voice with plucked instrument has had a very long and eventful history. The lute has its genesis so far back it denies precision, but certainly was in common use to accompany the voice in the Middle Ages. Today that long history has morphed into at least three mainstreams: the guitar/voice folk tradition, the whole rock/pop genre, and the more backward looking Baroque/Classical practice often embracing the harpsichord and Viol family.
So the concept of a soprano and guitar concert, as performed last night at the City Recital Hall, Sydney, presenting some three hundred and fifty years of song from the British Isles was, superficially, nothing out of the ordinary. Just another song recital.
But something strange was afoot. No one goes to song recitals any more. But this was not the case last night. The City Recital Hall (lower and first tier seats) was packed. Packed? Who by? Your correspondent has no idea. He had not known what to expect, but went along to hear and support the wonderful guitarist Karin Schaupp, whom he knows through their collaborations with the Flinders Quartet. The other artist, Katie Noonan was known only by reputation as a fine musician and versatile songstress.
The audience did not appear to be your mainstream chamber music audience. There was a good balance of age groups. They tended to applaud each item rather than at the end of groups or finite elements of the program. They expressed warm appreciation, but no wild excitement. But then the program was an introspective one, more attuned to encourage reflection and joy in the fine musicianship on display than any pop inspired, four/four thump, thump, thump, thump. What, then, had brought this audience together? An audience significantly bigger than even the Australian String Quartet can muster in Sydney.
Possibly there was a mix of three audiences there last night: guitar aficionados who would, as critic Neville Cardus (?) put it , endure “a long walk with peas in the boots” just to hear her play; those who had seen Karin in “Lotte’s Gift” , that intensely personal one woman stage show she has presented around Australia over the last few years, including at City Recital Hall; and, of course, Katie Noonan’s extensive fan base. Whence ever they came, it must have been the best chamber song recital audience in Sydney for many a year. Eat your heart out Musica Viva.
The program ranged from Purcell’s Evening Hymn through Vaughn Williams, Benjamin Britten arrangements of English folk songs, George Harrison and Sting to a reflective finale with Peter Gabriel’s “Solsbury Hil”l. Did such a mix of repertoire work? Yes, without question, although it is possible many audience members went home somewhat bemused. It would not be appropriate to presume a less than eclectic audience, but in truth it must be suspected some were scratching their heads at interval thinking “who the hell is this Benjamin Britten guy? Sounded good, don’t you think?”
Karin Schaupp’s performance was as polished and assured as her reputation would suggest it should have been. But more. She performed her role as continuo player and accompanist with a sensitivity and musicality of the highest order. She is an undoubted gem to have as a stage partner. Whether just the recognition factor, or true appreciation of Schaupp’s skills the most enthusiastic applause of the whole concert came after her rendition of “Here Comes the Sun”.
On what was your correspondent’s first live hearing of Katie Noonan, the report card must be mixed. While her emotional content and phrasing was apposite, the articulation left much to be desired (including when speaking into the microphone). She displayed a tightness and, sometimes, nasal tone in her higher register which detracted somewhat from overall pleasure in the performance. This was mostly apparent in the early part of the program. As the works became more folk and pop based, Noonan displayed more the tone and style on which she has developed her considerable reputation. There were moments in the second half when she allowed her sound to fill with a touch of vibrato. These moments were truly beautiful. Perhaps she just needs to rethink her approach to how she should sing Henry Purcell.
The evening finished with a lovely arrangement of a song your correspondent thought he never wanted to hear again: Auld Lang Syne. These two skilled performers turned it into something fresh and new. Good for them.
The duo will appear next in Sydney at the Joan Sutherland Centre, Penrith on June 4. Katie Noonan will perform at The Basement on June 12.