This concert featured the soprano Anna Sandström who is an early music specialist, accompanied by Chris Cartner on piano. At one stage during the concert Sandström admitted to liking singing with the piano rather than the array of early music she is used to, because she could use her “big girl voice”. And what a gal she is; and I mean that in the nicest possible way. She presented the whole program with a quiet confidence and approached the music with a freshness and humility. And what a voice it is; she sang throughout with a clear well centred voice with minimal vibrato. This is the first time I had heard her and it is a perfect voice for early music.
The program was mostly well known, but excellent vocal works by Handel, Bach and Purcell. There were 3 pieces by Domenico Scarlatti, Handel & Bach apologetically played on piano by Chris, who expressed concern that the early music lynch mob might get him at drinks after the concert. I was fingering the harpsichord string in my pocket but unfortunately had to dash off after the concert. Perhaps we might get him at the repeat performance at Pitt Street Uniting Church, Sydney on Friday 21 August at 7pm or at Hunter Baillie Memorial Church, Annandale on Sunday 23 August at 3pm.
Purcell’s “Music for a While” introduced ‘s voice in a gentle and delicate mode for this slow piece; a good start to the concert. She sings with only a hint of vibrato, stylistic swelling on longer notes and used playful onomatopoeia and ornamentation appropriate to the English Baroque. The “Evening Hymn” was sung with crisp dotted rhythms and evenness of tone throughout her range. She managed the breath in very long phrases well.
In the whole program I was impressed by her clear enunciation; every word is heard, but without compromising the legato line. Meaning was conveyed and the musical interpretation and was able to shine through by virtue of her tranquil demeanour. Each piece was carefully structured; although each individual phrase was shaped, there was a sense of the wholeness. Even within the expected fireworks in “Let the Bright Seraphim” we were given subtle shades of phrasing. She was having a lot of fun and the audience with her.
Handel’s “Where’er you walk” gave me a cold shiver of delight; a charming interpretation with convincing cadential ornamentation and elaboration of the “da capo” section.
My only reservation with Sandström’s interpretation was with “Lascia ch’io pianga”. I did enjoy it as she sang it beautifully, but the glory of this piece lies in its yearning sadness. I’m not sure whether she was recasting this to fit the optimistic tone of the concert or whether she is just chronically cheerful.
I was really looking forward to the fireworks aria “Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen” from Bach’s Cantata 51 when I saw it on the program. It would have fitted the theme of the concert well. However, she sang the more meditative aria “Höchster, mache deine Güte Ferner alle Morgen neu” instead. It is hard to complain; it was achingly beautiful. I think singers are often a bit scared of Bach; and not without reason. Ms Sandström falls not in that category. The recit (difficult in itself) was confidently done and stylistically appropriate. Fiendish leaps in the melodies were negotiated seemingly without effort and perfectly in pitch. Taking breaths in the middle of impossibly long phrases is par for the course with Bach but it was inconspicuously done without disturbing the line. The morning sun shone through this beautiful rendition.
We got our fireworks of course with the final “Rejoice,rejoice greatly”. She vocally danced through this delightful work; never a sense of tossing off phrases; everything musical. Bright and vibrant, this was a wonderful end to a delightful concert. I will make it my business find more of her performances.