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Review: Brodsky Quartet & Katie Noonan

Music

Australian singer Katie Noonan’s performance with world-renowned UK string ensemble The Brodsky Quartet is both brilliant in concept and breathtaking in execution.

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In a performance that gave this reviewer goosebumps, the quartet worked so cohesively with Noonan’s soaring vocals that the collaborators could easily have billed themselves as a quintet.

The impressive Brodsky Quartet – featuring Daniel Rowland and Ian Belton on violins, Paul Cassidy on viola and Jacqueline Thomas on cello – joined forces with Noonan to create a tribute to celebrated Australian poet and environmental activist Judith Wright with 10 specially commissioned works inspired by Wright’s poetry. The result is With Love And Fury, a reference to the phrase Wright used to sign off her letters and a perfect description of both the poetry and the performance.

The 10 composers collected by Noonan to set Wright’s poetry to music comprise some of the brightest stars of Australian musical composition: Elena Kats-Chernin, David Hirschfelder, Andrew Ford, Iain Grandage, Carl Vine, Paul Grabowsky, Paul Dean, John Rodgers, Richard Tognetti and Noonan herself.

The sequencing of the 10 pieces is a work of art in itself, moving from the seductive tones of Late Spring through the melodic To A Child to the powerful and soaring Night After Bushfire. Each piece is distinct and seems to both break from and build upon the last until the moving climax of the sequence in Tognetti’s Metho Drinker.

As a long-time admirer of both Wright’s poetry and activism, I was interested in the poem choice and how successfully her work would translate into lyrics. While lyrical in content, her poems are not generally rhythmic, proving a challenge to both the composers and vocalist.

While Noonan’s vocal range and intonation are exquisite and she delivered a spine-tingling performance, it was disappointing that much of the poetry was lost, with the lyrics discernable only in Noonan’s lower registers. The Brodsky Quartet was brilliant, the members working perfectly with each other while simultaneously attuned to Noonan’s vocals.

The second half of the show was quite different in content and proved even more enthralling than the first. The quartet opened the set with a “triptych” of three pieces by Australian composers Peter Sculthorpe, Andrew Ford and Robert Davidson. It was a highlight of the night, with the musicians playing at their technical and passionate best.

Noonan returned to the stage for the remainder of the program, which included songs by Elvis Costello and Björk.

The show concluded with the song “Fragile”, by Sting, during which Noonan invited the audience to join in as the strings faded away to leave only vocalist and the impromptu “choir”.  The full house rose to their feet, demanding an encore to a unique concert experience that delivered technical and creative excellence while paying tribute to a worthy Australian icon.

With Sound and Fury was presented on May 1 at Her Majesty’s Theatre as part of a national tour.

 

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