14 April 2014


It's incongruous that I'm in Albert Hall hearing music of the renaissance. Polifemy is singing. Polifemy is a female choir, thus -fem-, I guess. They are supported for some tunes by Walking the Dog. WtD is another incongruity and a big one. It's a recorder ensemble. I've just read a book about Umbria where I lived for a few months many years back. This music seems perfect for stone cathedrals and Perugino madonnas and big echoey spaces. (Did you know the Virgin's wedding ring is in the Duomo at Perugia? It's displayed one day per year, 31 July, and I read about it, sitting on the steps of the Duomo, on 1 August many years back. It's an unlikely goal.) This day is sunny, we are in the new world, in Australia. I feel it doesn't quite fit, but closing my eyes, I'm transported. These are pure voices, in three parts. They sing with the faith and the love of nature of the cinquecento. The program speaks of Gastoldi and joyful celebrations of love and spring and singing and dancing; of Festo and passionate and erotic feelings of unrequited and unattainable love (I won't say for whom, so close to Easter). Also William Byrd and Janequin and madrigals. The space suited the choir, but I felt especially the low tones. The Paetzold bass and contrabass recorders raise all manner of interest, all square and modern and boxy, but also they sound a dream! This is a tone of a harmonium or organ, pure, sweet and rounded, and strong and prominent amongst the smaller, plastic recorders with different bores. I've seen these wooden recorders before but not noticed how pure is their tone. Lovely. Same with the lower (alto) voices in the choir, these also were prominent. The lower tones had presence in this place. These were mostly women: the choir was all women; the recorders were mostly women. I thought of cloistered choirs form 500 years ago. Were they women? Presumably, there were women's choirs, but I imagine males also sang in high register, as I've heard with local period choirs. Whatever, it was quite beautiful and it had parts with range; so an alto felt like a low line. The singing was mostly 3 parts, sometimes accompanied by the recorder ensemble and, for a few tunes, by a single viola da gamba. Some music was obviously canonical, repeating lines through different voices or instrumental pitches. The recorders sounded of a lost era, innocent and honest tone, simple counterpoint. The voices spoke of belief and faith, something that is not the modern. This is music of another era and we are blest to hear it but only touching an understanding. Perhaps it's a function of my recent readings, but this was a surprisingly enlightening visit to another world that we might know of but of which we are unlikely to know. Sunny Canberra, our unassuming Albert Hall, provided a touch of the renaissance today and it was enlightening.

Polifemy performed with Walking the Dog. Polifemy comprise Susan Antcliff, Hanna-Mari Latham, Liz McKenzie, Robyn Mellow (director), Joan Milner (tenor viol as well as voice), Carolyn Savage and Rachel Walker. Walking the Dog comprise Olivia Gossip, Nick Horn, Robyn Mellor (director), Ann Neville, Chris Short and Anna Weatherly.

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