Perched on the Kangaroo Point cliffs, and overlooking the glinting sailboats on the Brisbane River, St Mary’s Anglican Church was a delightful setting for an afternoon soirée. Soirées Musicales Quintette: Endings and Beginnings was held on Sunday, with the setting sun pouring in through the stained-glass windows.
Formed in 2015, Soirées Musicales Quintette is an ensemble of classical vocalists, with experience in theatre, opera and concerts. The ensemble presents a vocal quartet, of sopranos Annie Lower and Rachael Griffin, tenor Mattias Lower and baritone Leon Warnock, supported by Peter Roennfeldt on piano. They were also joined by guest artist, Phillip Gearing, Director of Music at St Mary’s, for piano duets.
Soirées Musicales Quintette presents 19th-century repertoire in heritage venues, bringing together key aspects of the era; soloistic individuality, chamber music collaboration, and a blending of music and text. The ambience and acoustics of heritage buildings from Queensland’s colonial period, like St Mary’s, are a fitting setting.
The program featured a selection of early piano and vocal works, from significant points in the composers’ lives. The program was split into sections for each composer, including Robert Schumann, Gabriel Fauré, Josef Rheinberger, André Messager, and Charles Villiers Stanford. Interspersed between the vocal works were piano solos and duets, each titled ‘Romance’, to allow time for the vocalists catch their breath.
To begin, Peter Roennfeldt and Phillip Gearing performed a piano duet from Schumann’s Spanisches Liebeslieder, Op. 138 (1849), with a bolero tempo and distinctively Spanish flavour.The ensemble performed ten of Schumann’s Spanish Love Songs, with solos for each of the vocalists. Rachael Griffin and Annie Lower performed a duet, voices soaring to the arched, wood-panelled ceiling. Leon Warnock then performed a bass solo. Then, a second piano duet, followed by Mattias Lower and Griffin solos, then a tenor and bass duet. Within this section, a narrative of love, disappointment and reconciliation tied the song cycles together. The pieces modulated between major and minor keys, before resolving. To finish this bracket, the vocal quartet sang Schumann’s Dunkler Lichtglanz, blinder Blick (Dark radiance, blind gazing) with its aching themes of suffering and love.
For the second bracket, the ensemble performed seven early works by Fauré, starting with a slow, reflective, vocal quartet with rich harmonies, Cantique de Jean Racine, Op.11 (1865). Tenor and bass, Lower and Warnock, performed Puisqu’ici-bas tout âme (As here each soul), Op. 10 No. 1 (1873) with deep timbre and passion. The soprano duet, Tarentelle – Aux cieux la lune monte et luit (In the heavens the moon rises and shines) Op. 10 No.2 was lively, upbeat, with staccato-like notes in the piano and ended with a theatrical flourish. Throughout this bracket, Roennfeldt played three Fauré Romance san paroles(without words) displaying true mastery of the piano. To close, the vocal quartet reformed for Madrigal Op. 35 (1883), accompanied by Roennfeldt.
The third bracket featured works by Rheinberger, including two vocal quartets and a piano solo. Lockung (Temptation) Op. 25 (1858) evoked images of forests, streams, mermaids and enchantment, leading to the next piece, Die Wasserfee (The Water Sprite) Op. 21 (1869). This piece was haunting, alluring the listener to the sea and to women without mercy. The vocalists expressed these pieces with strong emotions, dynamics and attentiveness to each other.
For the fourth bracket, guest artist Gearing re-joined Roennfeldt at the piano, for five pieces by Fauré and Messager, La Musique de l’avenir (Music of the future). Fauré and Messager composed this piece collaboratively in 1880, as a tribute to Richard Wagner. Gearing and Roennfeldt played the contrasting movements with gusto and also sensitivity.
For the final bracket, the ensemble performed two part-songs and a piano solo, by Stanford. Sweet and Low, No. 2, Op. 68 (1898) was performed with tenderness, gently rocking a child to sleep. O swallow, swallow, No. 5 had light, fluttering melodies, like birds taking flight, set to a rippling accompaniment. The vocalists’ voices wove in and out, knowing when to shine out and to fade back. The audience erupted into applause. Roennfeldt, the Lowers, Griffin, Warnock and Gearing bowed three times, before announcing a surprise finale.
To end their final concert of the year, Soirées Musicales Quintette performed an excerpt from Johannes Brahms’ Liebeslieder Waltzes: Nightingale in memory of the ensemble’s friend and eminent musician, James Christiansen OAM.
Soirées Musicales Quintette: Endings and Beginnings was a thoroughly enjoyable concert to end their season, and to look forward to beginning the new year.
After the concert, nibblies and drinks were provided outside the hall, with a chance to meet the musicians, and see the last of the sunset on the river.