Outstanding throughout and highly skilled – Luminescence Chamber Singers’ memorable Melbourne performance

by | Jul 5, 2024 | Ambassador thoughts, Chamber Groups, Choirs, Composer, Voice

Of the Body | Luminescence Chamber Singers

July 3, 2024 Primrose Potter Salon, Melbourne Recital Centre

Though it was presented in a standard format and in a traditional concert venue, this program by the six-voice, Canberra-based Luminescence Chamber Singers was anything but commonplace. Of the Body featured old and new music interacting with the seven movements of a recent work of that title by composer and tenor Dan Walker. His work, in turn, takes as its formal model a famed sacred work from 1680 by the German composer Buxtehude. 

The juxtaposition of European vocal works from the Renaissance and modern works from America and Australia, all dealing in some way with the human body, heightened the immersive experience; the textured wood and vivid lighting of the sold-out Salon created a warm cocoon on a cold Melbourne night, while the mostly gentle mood of the pieces was now and again punctured by more jaunty rhythms or word-painting employing unusual vocal colours, particularly in Lassus’s German song about noses and Walker’s movement about the mouth.

The ensemble singing was outstanding throughout, the rare harmonic slips quickly rectified and only adding to the experience of being at an active, live performance, and one actually exploring the fallible, infinitely variable human body. Most affecting of Dan Walker’s pieces, perhaps, were his opening movement, setting an Italian text of Petrarch from the fourteenth century, which featured accomplished singing and delightful, inventive harmonic movement, and later Neruda’s text “When I cannot look at your face, I look at your feet”. 

In between was Sarah Teasdale’s “Your eyes drink of me”, set as men’s voices providing a varied ostinato accompaniment to the women, and the interpolation of one of Gesualdo’s Tenebrae Responsories from 1611. Here the crossover and sharing of ideas between new and old came into actuality, rather than merely mirroring or abutting. Despite there being nothing heard from the four centuries between, the connections were immediate and sincere. It did leave me wondering if a parallel performance of the Buxtehude original (Membra Jesus Nostri) and Walker’s new work would not have been equally engaging and the program even more tightly interwoven. 

The reference to Gesualdo brought to mind the recent visit to Australia of the Gesualdo VI, an English six-voice ensemble with similar repertoire aims, though using only male voices. Having been inexplicably passed over by VOCES8, Melbourne was fortunate to hear this concert by a home-grown ensemble of fine young voices, highly skilled and on a path to creating truly memorable concert presentations. 

luminescence2

The presence of experienced director Roland Peelman, subtly guiding the music, contributing the rhythm section on a hand drum, and providing arrangements of two contemporary American songs, also led to thoughts of earlier incarnations of The Song Company. But Luminescence need have no fear. Their tightly matched sound, which also allows for soloistic turns – of particular note in this concert were those of mezzo AJ America in Walker’s beautiful Sara Sara (setting of Japanese poet Bashō), and of second soprano Rachel Mink in Peelman’s jazzier arrangement of Skinny Love – and clear love of what they are doing, make them something to look out for on the Australian music scene. That they operate from Canberra is a great advertisement for our capital city.


Guest reviewer: Peter Campbell

Peter is a Melbourne-based musicologist, singer and composer who grew up in Canberra.

Photo credit: Melbourne Recital Centre

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