This was a celebration of the music of Australian composer Margaret Brandman.
Being in one of the Recital Halls at the Con, I was expecting a formal concert, but in the nature of CD launches, this was very much an informal family-and-friends affair with the choreographer Ross Hutchison as the exuberant master of ceremonies.
The first half of the concert featured audio/visual selections from recently recorded works.
The snippets we heard from Sensations CD were played by the Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra in the Czech Republic under the direction of Petr Vronsky. The performance was rich and sensuous, giving depth and space to the music. The snippets presented were from the works Love Brings Change (Adagio for Strings), the Firestorm Symphony, inspired by the 1994 bushfires around Brandman’s Glenbrook home, and the Lyric Fantasy for orchestra and piano, ably played by Lucie Kaucká. These orchestral works were very impressive and tightly held emotionally. From the little we heard, I can recommend this CD to you.
The Abrazo, Warm Winds in Havana CD for sax quartet and percussion was recorded by members of the National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba. It is lively dance music in the Cuban tradition.
Interspersed with video presentations were works composed and performed by Margaret Brandman on piano, with special guest baritone Martin Cooke.
Cooke was for 25 years in the chorus of the Bavarian State Opera. He has also performed many lieder recitals internationally. His vocal technique is excellent, the voice is always well placed and the tone rich and consistent throughout the range. His phrasing and pitch were excellent, showing him as a consummate musician. His dignified presence and capable, well prepared performances added considerable gravitas to what was a pretty easy going concert.
Brandman’s songs are characterised by sonorous tonal piano writing, lyric melodies and even phrasing. Of the short works performed I found the Lady Of Grace charming and enjoyed The Baragoola Sails to Many which describes a quintessentially experience to which many Sydney siders can relate.
After interval we heard the world premiere of Brandman’s Cosmic Wheel of the Zodiac Song Cycle based on the poetry of the astrologer Benita Rainer. There was one short song for each of the 12 signs. Considering the cyclic nature of the zodiac, I wondered why the songs were presented out of Zodiac order. It will remain a mystery.
The poetry on the whole expressed the traditional meaning of each of the signs well, although I was a little confused by the representation of Scorpio as a water dragon. The emotional range of possibilities that the zodiac opens up are huge. Think of Holst’s The Planets. I felt that Bandman’s arrangement was a reaction to poetry, more than the cultural meaning of the star signs and this made this music rather more limited in emotional scope than the possibilities presented. These works did not have the musical depth of the orchestral works. There was nothing to challenge the listener musically. There was however plenty to be enjoyed. For example, whenever the subject of love arose (as it did with Cancer and Virgo) she set this to jaunty jazzy music, and Capricorn, the mountain goat’s music was angular and assured. And Cooke’s singing was always engaging.
I will let Brandman have the final word: “I compose music that is uplifting, positive or meditative for peace and harmony on the planet.”
The Music of Margaret Brandman, Celebratory CD Launch and Recital, Saturday 3 September 2016 | Recital Hall East, Sydney Conservatorium of Music