AVE is a Latin word, used by the Romans as a salutation and greeting. A small word meaning “Hail – be well!” Now we can say Ave! to the newly launched Australian Vocal Ensemble – a small vocal group comprising four outstanding performers: Katie Noonan (Director & Soprano), Fiona Campbell (Mezzo Soprano), Andrew Goodwin (Tenor) and Andrew O’Connor (Bass Baritone) – from Australia’s big league of voices.
In Elisabeth Murdoch Hall a large audience was there to offer enthusiastic greetings for the innovative and eclectic Katie Noonan as she launched her stunning project Tumbling Like Stars. True to her passionate belief in the unique history and stories of Australian culture – past and present – Noonan commissioned twelve composers to write colourful and polished musical settings for texts by acclaimed writer and poet David Malouf.
For over 30 years, Stephen Leek has been a pioneering choral educator and a leader in Australian composition evoking the essence and colours of the land in hundreds of pieces that are spiritually meaningful and entertaining for performers and audiences. Honouring his influence and choral leadership, his was the opening piece, Stars, a gentle, timeless beginning, with voices quietly humming, floating upwards in close chromatic steps, and a sense of eternal cosmic energy. Noonan’s powerful voice soared upwards, high above the sweet harmonic support, projecting the group into sparkling activity then slowly fading into an eternal space.
The audience was thrilled to hear the wonderful purity, expression and instrumental beauty of these stellar vocalists, tonight delivering and championing new, truly Australian music.
With many commissions to their credit and both women being recipients of several Art Music Awards, it was no surprise to see composers Jessica Wells and Anne Cawrse in Noonan’s project. An experienced and valued arranger, Wells has orchestrated over 70 films. Her piece, In The Sea’s Giving,demonstrated sensitive wordless vocal effects and contemporary harmonies that supported colourful solos and some exciting percussive and syncopated ostinato patterns. This work required all four voices in the quartet to project some very powerful solos at full strength through the auditorium. With Afterward, Cawrse, one of Adelaide’s favourite composers, produced a lengthier work showing most interesting and bold architecture. Highly animated sections allowed Noonan to soar with crystal clear glissandos to an admirable height. Widely spread dissonant chords required daring fortissimos and a variety of precisely timed tonal contrasts for the complete ensemble.
Each singer relished the solo lines provided by Isaac Hurren in his work The Catch and the audience was able to experience the individual colour, range and tonal quality of each male and female voice, until melodic lines wove together into denser harmonic texture. Thomas Green’s Typewriter Music brought fragmented, highly rhythmic and accented patterns of short crisp notes into the air, like sparks coming from nowhere, while his First Night gave the singers a contrasting blend of slower chords, an air of contemplation, questioning and exploration. Suburban, by Robert Davidson, introduced a jazz style of quite groovy scat singing, active and harmonious, melodic and most congenial. The audience greatly enjoyed the very pleasant sensual choral harmony and rhythmic unity of this piece. From the Book of Whispers by Alice Humphries is a solemn and captivating work that introduced bold new tonalities and colours of twilight to AVE’s program.
This concert truly highlighted the proliferating number of Australian composers firming their place in our modern history. While celebrating contemporary Australia, Noonan also carefully placed four important and vibrant classical masterpieces through the program. From Renaissance composer Tomas Luis de Victoria, Heth. Misericordiae was a finely balanced Lamentation, pure and beautifully nuanced. Tenor Andrew Goodwin arranged Bach’s Jesu, meine Freude andHandel’s Tu del Ciel Ministro eletto in stylish and imaginative settings, adding a beautiful vocalise, quasi-instrumental introduction to the latter. Each quartet member demonstrated their finest solo skills in warm flowing lines, and at the conclusion there were many sighs and murmurs of approval from the audience.
Beautifully effective were the two concluding highlights in AVÉ’s program. Bach’s cantata Straf mich nicht in deinem Zorn was first sung in German then in the indigenous Gubbi Gubbi language. This was a special moment. Containing consonants that do not occur in English, this beautiful and colourful language gave us a unique tonal, musical and spiritual experience. Andrew Goodwin then spoke of his inspiration for the final work, Peace I Leave With You, which emerged from the healing process following the loss of a family member along with his experiences of living with a pandemic. Gentle flowing classical harmonies combined with a contemporary structure to produce an honest and affective repose.
Extensive applause acknowledged AVÉ’s enriching and creative project, which was delivered with warmth, humour and a lively connection between performers and audience. However, the audience would gain a more complete understanding of these important new works if texts and program notes for all songs were provided for this outstanding project.
Photo courtesy Melbourne Recital Centre.
Julie McErlain reviewed “Tumbling Like Stars”, the Season One: “Awakening” program performed by AVÉ: Australian Vocal Ensemble, comprising Katie Noonan (Director & Soprano), Fiona Campbell (Mezzo Soprano), Andrew Goodwin (Tenor) and Andrew O’Connor (Bass Baritone), at the Melbourne Recital Centre on February 23, 2022.