Venue: Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre, Adelaide
Season: Concluded, two performances only
Duration: 2hrs incl interval
Soprano, Katie Noonan, has joined forces with guitarist, Karin Schaupp, touring Australia to present a superb concert covering an eclectic mix of British music written over many centuries. Before the interval the music was primarily from the past, with a strong folk song influence and, after the interval, folk gave way to everything from the Beatles to Radiohead. As few of the works were written for guitar and voice, arrangements for this concert were written by either Richard Charlton or Jeremy Alsop.
They opened with the very beautiful An Evening Hymn, by Renaissance composer Henry Purcell (1659-1695), in an arrangement by Charlton. This meditative piece, with the opening line “Now, now that the Sun hath veil’d his light” is written over a ground bass and is in the form of a chaconne, descending repeated bass figures. Noonan’s voice floated lightly over the open accompaniment and Schaupp gave a superbly executed support, signalling that this was going to be a very special concert.
Next was a selection of five short pieces by the Renaissance singer and lutenist John Dowland (1563-1626). The first of three songs was Come Again, followed by What if I Never Speed, and the final song was Fine Knacks for Ladies. The guitar accompaniment was very much in the style of lute accompaniment and Noonan;s expressive voice was ideally suited to these pieces. The last of these songs was originally a four part madrigal, a lively piece that broke away from the more melancholic style of much of Dowland’s songs and, in fact, that common aspect of much of the music of the Renaissance. The last two selections were contrasting dances arranged for solo guitar, the slow Melancholy Galliard and the quick and lively Allemande – My Lady Hunssdon’s Puffe. These gave Schaupp a chance to display her enormous technique that is coupled with a wide knowledge of musical styles, something that won her a good many friends last year at the Adelaide International Guitar Festival.
A leap forward in time to the beginning of the twentieth century and Charlton’s arrangement of Silent Noon, the second in a cycle of six songs, under the collective title of The House of Life (1904). These are settings by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) of poems by the Pre-Raphaelite poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti. It concerns two lovers lying together in a sunny meadow in Cyprus and Noonan gives us a hint of that erotic scene in her interpretation.
Alsop’s arrangement of Michael Head’s (1900-1976) setting of the Ave Maria from his Three Sacred Songs in C minor (1954). The greater part of Head’s music is songs, although he wrote some orchestral works. He wrote many of his songs in a diatonic scale, making them easy to sing and remember. Written for high voice and piano, this work has been arranged in various ways since it first appeared, right up to a full choir, such is it popularity. This piece is both meditative and joyous and the duo capture those elements beautifully.
Three of Benjamin Britten’s (1913-1976) arrangements of British folk songs, I Will Give My Love an Apple, The Soldier and the Sailor and Bonny at Morn, were next. Britten was attracted to and collected folk songs and made arrangements of many of them. Noonan and Schaupp appear to share an affinity for these pieces, bringing out the bucolic simplicity of a bygone era, an unhurried way of life.
Celtic Circles – A Fantasie, an arrangement for solo guitar of a set of traditional Irish tunes by Charlton was next, starting with an air, The Gentle Maiden, moving on to a jig, Neil Flaherty’s Drake, then to Lord Gordon’s Reel, then a quite fast version of a popular hornpipe, The Rights of Man, and finally the very fast reel, Drowsy Maggie, a tune that can be heard almost every time a group of Irish musicians get together for a session. Schaupp displayed an amazing dexterity and considerable enthusiasm in her performance of this medley.
The first half ended with two more traditional folk songs, arranged by Richard Charlton, the gentle ballad Waly Waly, also known as The Water is Wide, dating from the 1600s, and the Scottish Border ballad from the early 1700s, The Wraggle Taggle Gypsies, O! This is sometimes known, in a variation, as, Black Jack Davey and it tells of a lady who casts off her husband, riches and easy lifestyle to run off with the gypsies, seeking excitement and, by not too subtle implication, better lovemaking that her husband could offer. On this risqué note Noonan and Schaupp closed the first half of the concert, to great applause.
After the interval that moving Irish ballad, Fields of Athenry, continued the folk influence, although this is not actually a traditional tune, having been written in the 1970s by Pete St. John. It has captured the imaginations of many, many people with dozens of different recordings having been made. The sensitive arrangement this time was by Charlton. It is the tale of a fictional man named Michael who is deported to Botany Bay for stealing “Trevelyan’s corn” during the Great Irish Famine of 1845-1850. This was one of the finest performances of this song that I have heard.
Another, very appropriate piece for solo guitar, George Harrison’s While My Guitar Gently Weeps, in a very inventive arrangement by Alsop, was intended as an introduction to his arrangement of Nick Lake’s Things Behind the Sun, to which there was a fascinating Spanish feel. As an introduction to the song, however, it did not quite work as there was a slight pause, rather than a smooth segue between the two, as they do not quite mesh due to the contrast in styles. There was also an intention to use a third piece to lead back out of the song but enthusiastic applause then broke the sequence so that his arrangement for solo guitar of George Harrison’s Here Comes the Sun didn’t quite work as a lead out of the song. The three were really discrete pieces and would probably have been better treated that way, giving the audience the chance that they wanted to applaud each piece separately.
Still with Liverpool’s most famous sons, the next item was John Lennon’s Love, written for Yoko Ono and here arranged by Alsop. The original had Lennon on guitar and vocals with Phil Spector on piano. This arrangement is a little slower and has a very romantic feel to it, Noonan’s voice soaring to the high notes with great clarity and accuracy.
A move away from the Beatles and Elvis Costello’s Favourite Hour was next, arranged by Charlton. Declan Patrick MacManus took Elvis Presley’s first name and his mother’s maiden name to create his stage name when Jake Riviera, his manager at Stiff Records suggested a name change. Both Schaupp’s guitar and Noonan’s vocals bring out all of the sadness of the loss of life to wars.
Charlton also provided an arrangement of The Man with the Child in his Eyes, written by Kate Bush when she was in her early teens and recorded when she was still only sixteen. The song is written in a minor key, adding to the poignancy of the lyrics about the relationship between a young girl and an older man. She sees, in his eyes, the little boy inside.
Another Charlton arrangement was of Radiohead’s Last Flowers to the Hospital. The sparse piano accompaniment behind the song in its original form translates well to the guitar. Again there is a sadness that Noonan expresses wonderfully. The title is taken from a sign on the way to a hospital on Oxford.
Alsop’s arrangement of Roxanne, written for The Police by Sting, proved especially popular with the audience. This song, with its tango rhythm, is sung by a man to the prostitute that he loves, telling her to give up that life, for him. Noonan makes the song closer to being an appeal than the original, which sounds more insistent, and this approach works well.
Alsop provided the arrangement for the final piece on the programme, Peter Gabriel’s Solsbury Hill. Gabriel made some big changes at the time his son was born, quitting as the lead singer of Genesis, It generally accepted to be about a spiritual experience on Little Solsbury Hill, to give it its full name, near Bath in Somerset, yet there are numerous other interpretations that people have suggested, even including alien encounters. He said in interview, however, that it was about leaving Genesis and the difficult birth of his son, about change and moving on. He wrote most of it in 7/4 time and added instruments progressively as the song continued. The duo’s version has a marvellously spiritual and contemplative feel.
Schaupp and Noonan were, of course, called back for an encore and, moving up into Scotland and back to 1788, they gave a fine reading of Robert Burns best known song, Auld Lang Syne. Although we generally think of it primarily as a song to sing at midnight as one year passes to the next, what the Scots call Hogmanay, it is also sung at funerals, as a farewell and to close an event and so it was a particularly appropriate song with which to close the concert.
This was a terrific concert by two very fine performers who were very much of the same mind over the interpretation of each of the songs. If you missed it, keep your fingers crossed for a return performance or further concerts in the near future.
Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor, Glam Adelaide.