I See Your Beating Heart: A Woman’s Cantata

Presented by Various People Inc. in association with the Adelaide Festival Centre

The first part of the concert was a performance of Robert Schumann’s 1840 song cycle, Frauenliebe und –leben (A Woman's Love and Life), Op. 42, based on the poetry of Adelbert von Chamisso from 1830. The eight songs make up the story, told by a woman, of her life with her husband, from the first time she saw him, to their marriage and, eventually, to his death. The birth of a child is a part of this story. The eight songs in the cycle are listed below.

Seit ich ihn gesehen (Since I Saw Him)
Er, der Herrlichste von allen (He, the Noblest of All)
Ich kann's nicht fassen, nicht glauben (I Cannot Grasp or Believe It)
Du Ring an meinem Finger (Your Ring Upon My Finger)
Helft mir, ihr Schwestern" (Help Me, Sisters)
Süßer Freund, du blickest mich verwundert an (Sweet Friend, You Gaze)
An meinem Herzen, an meiner Brust (At My Heart, At My Breast)
Nun hast du mir den ersten Schmerz getan (Now You Have Caused Me Pain for the First Time)

Mezzo-Soprano, Cheryl Pickering, Artistic Director, accompanied at the piano Richard Chew, Musical Director, performed this first part of the performance. Where Schubert’s accompaniment for his Lieder was often descriptive, the sound of a galloping horse as the father rides to save his dying son in Der Erlkönig, the sound of a spinning wheel in Gretchen am Spinnrade and so on, Schumann developed a different approach, making his accompaniment aid in establishing the mood and emotional content of his song. He rounds it off beautifully in the last song by returning to thematic material from the first song. That approach to his scoring is clearly seen in this song cycle, and is well realised by Chew’s very empathetic playing. Pickering gave the songs a wide emotional range in a fine performance of the eight songs, giving us all of the excitement, joy, wonder and ultimate sadness, in spite of suffering the effects of a cold.

This first part of the concert had a purpose beyond merely a performance for its own sake, as if that was not sufficient anyway. The second work, composed by Chew, is a setting of the poetry of London-based writer, Sheila Hill, a work in which they collaborated. She wrote the poem after the birth of her child, Billy, with Chew and his then wife, Pickering, expecting their second child, Martha. It was first performed by Chew and Pickering at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in 2001.

Chew chose to base this work on Shumann’s model, hence the inclusion of that song cycle in the first half. I See Your Beating Heart is, thus, an eight song cycle dealing with discreet aspects of the experience, begining with the title song, I See Your Beating Heart, with projected images of a scan of an unborn baby, the heart clearly visible, beating away inside the mother. This piece differs, however, using larger musical forces, three singers and a piano trio. Chew, again, was at the piano, assisted by violinist Linda Rankin and cellist Kim Worley, whilst Pickering was joined by sopranos, Sarah-Jane Pattichis and Sharon Turley. Although billed as a cantata it is really a song cycle, with the fractured, fragmentary, repeated or slightly changed lines of Hill’s poetry set to a an apporiately similarly minimalsit inspred score.

The monocromatic videos and still images projected onto a screen behind the performers were created by Lighting and Projection Designer, Nic Mollison, and include images of his new born baby son, Jiri. The mind sometimes makes unusual connections and, not knowing how Mollison and his wife came to choose it, just seeing that name, and with music all around, I could not help but think that if this young man grows up with half the talent of that that incredible and sadly missed oboist, Jiří Tancibudek, he will undoubtedly go far.

These eight songs would have surely made a connection with any mothers or mothers-to-be in the audience, who would have been happy to know that their thoughts, worries, fears, highs and lows are universal, and that they are not alone, and also that many things that they might be unsure about, are perfectly normal. As always, we poor men can, at best, try to imagine what motherhood might actually be like, and experience it all second hand. This song cycle did, however, give some extra insight, letting us get a little closer to that wondrous event for a short time. No doubt it was even more greatly appreciated on an emotional level by the women in the audience. Let’s hope it is not another decade before it gets another performance in Adelaide.

Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor, Glam Adelaide.

Various People web site

Venue: Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre, King William Road, Adelaide
Season: one performance only
Duration: 1hr 10mins

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