Stepping into the warmth and intimacy of Old Government house was a relief from the brisk Brisbane night. With its rich, oak panelled doors, archways, high ceilings and chandeliers, it was a fitting venue for Soirées Musicales Quintette: A Governor’s Invitational Soirée. The concert showcased Romantic music from a unique Brisbane perspective.
Formed in 2015, Soirées Musicales Quintette is a Brisbane-based chamber ensemble, who perform Romantic music in heritage venues. Soirées Musicales Quintette is composed of sopranos Annie Lower and Rachael Griffin, tenor Mattias Lower, baritone Leon Warnock and pianist Peter Roennfeldt. The members have worked together for many years in concert, theatre and opera and have developed a real sensitivity with one another.
Soirées Musicales Quintette: A Governor’s Invitational Soirée was a concert of historical significance. Held on Friday evening, the concert featured selections from opera, sacred music, duets, ballads and partsongs. The programme was split into five sections, reflective of concerts from the time of various governors. The pianist and concert master, Peter Roennfeldt read out newspaper reports from the time, giving insight into what the original concerts were like. The ensemble performed 19th century music with real authenticity.
The programme opened with piano, as the vocalists slowly descended the elegant stairs in their flowing gowns and crisp suits. The vocalists mimed a theatrical scena to set the mood, and then began to sing. The Bohemian Girl, by William Scharfenberg, was a popular Romantic opera, originally performed in Government House in the 1870s-80s. Opening the concert with a dramatic scena was effective to introduce each of the vocalists and to reel in the audience.
Following this, the Quintette performed two more items from the same era, a romance and a ballad. Romance Il faut partir from La fille du régiment by Gaetano Donizetti, and Watching and Waiting, by Charlotte Sainton-Dolby. In these pieces, the sopranos voices resonated through the high ceilings, vibrating my eardrums.
The second section of the concert presented a programme which was heard exactly 135 years ago in this venue, 19 July 1884. This included sacred songs, ballads, opera excerpts and a piano solo. The sacred songs, Nazareth, by Charles Gounod, and I waited for the Lord, by Felix Mendelssohn, were performed with emotion, reflecting the intense passion of the Romantic era. Annie Lower and Rachael Griffin’s duet soared high, taking turns, with blended harmonies.
Peter Roennfeldt tackled the lively Chopin polonaise with gusto. He raised the lid on the historic piano, for the sound to ring out. Roennfeldt then accompanied Mattias Lower, Leon Warnock and Rachael Griffin in a trio, from The Bohemian Girl. The trio were in character, using the stairs and space to again act a scena. This piece comes from Act III, where the heroine escapes her aristocratic home, aided by her lover and friend. The piece finished with the vocalists walking down the aisle.
To finish the second bracket, the Quintette took turns to sing three ballads, Best of all, by Frank Lewis Moir, Laddie by Ciro Pinsuti and The Curfew Bell by Steven Glover. Each of these ballads, while simple, allowed the soloists’ voices to shine.
For the third section, the Quintette then performed two ballads, My Queen by Jacques Blumenthal and Let me love thee by Luigi Arditi. These ballads, or similar, were performed at Government House in 1893, by the Brisbane Liedertafel (choir). Mattias Lower, the tenor, sang My Queen with sensitivity. Mattias Lower and Leon Warnock then sang the duet, The Fisherman, by Vincenzo Gabussi, with sweeping melodies and well-blended harmonies.
In the fourth bracket, Peter Roennfeldt played the upbeat, frantic May Polka, by Charles F. d’Albert. The piano was solo initially, then joined by Annie Lower’s soaring vocals. The May Polka is a well-known piece and was enjoyable to hear performed live. This was followed by a waltz from Roméo et Juliette, by Gounod. These two dances were popular in the late 1890s and were danced at Government House until one o’clock in the morning on one occasion, said Roennfeldt.
To conclude the programme, Soirées Musicales Quintette performed three partsongs, O Hush Thee, my Babie, by Arthur Sullivan, Sweet and Low, by Joseph Barnby, and Good Night Beloved, by Pinsuti. These songs celebrated King Edward VII’s 65th birthday in 1906, performed by a well-known group of Brisbane singers. The pieces present themes of love and intimacy, between mother and child or between lovers. The Quintette performed these more subdued pieces with rich harmonies, blending in and out. The vocalists had a strong connection with each other in this section and moved together.
Whilst singing Good Night, Beloved, the vocalists peeled off the stage and into the wings. The piece ended with rapturous applause. The vocalists came back, bowed, exited again. But the clapping continued. The vocalists returned to the stage again. Roennfeldt announced an extra piece to finish. It was a return to The Bohemian Girl opera, a piece covered by artists as wide as Joan Sutherland and Enya. Then, more applause.
The drawing rooms were opened, revealing tables laid with nibbles and drinks. The audience had time to refresh and meet the performers, in an authentic setting to end an enjoyable night.