Promoting their new album and first-time collaboration, Australia’s Katie Noonan and the British-based Brodsky Quartet were empathic and genial partners on Friday night performing With Love and Fury. The near-capacity Melbourne Recital Centre crowd listened with respect, as enthusiastic applause revealed an appetite for more, although the night did stretch out despite the high-calibre musicianship. In an era of 1-hour concerts in Melbourne it’s increasingly unusual to have to sit for over two hours, an exception being the opera!
Split in two, Part I of the program presented a collection of specially commissioned works inspired by the poetry of Judith Wright. As a musician Katie Noonan revels in fearless, high-quality art creation which over the years has lead to award-winning partnerships with the Australian Chamber Orchestra, the Aria-award winning pop band George, her soprano mother Maggie and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra to name a few. The powerful and at times difficult words of legendary Australian poet Judith Wright were deftly set to music by a company of 10 high-profile Australian names, including Noonan herself. This giant new work, showcasing a Who’s Who of living Australian composers and interpreted by 5 world-class musicians was a highlight of the night. Noonan and the Brodsky Quartet approached each with care and a deep understanding of the text, although a ripe first half left this listener feeling aurally drunk due to the dense nature of each movement and the subsequent need to digest.
There were a number of fascinating borrowings, including Iain Grandage’s mesmeric Night after Bushfire, notable for many reasons, but perhaps most memorably for a clever paraphrasing of Schubert’s Death and the Maiden String Quartet. Richard Tognetti’s Metho Drinker concluded the set, a poignant understanding of the words “O take from me the weight and waterfall ceaseless time that batters down by weakness”. Katie Noonan’s own work captured the ecstasy of her own voice best of all, a marvelous instrument which soared freely and without compositional shackle in The Surfer. Noonan admitted coyly too that in her own composition there was a little bit of “ripped off Led Zeppelin”. Paul Dean’s Sonnet for Christmas provided the most intense moment of the evening, a frenetic and otherworldly setting of close dissonances from the quartet, and the darker timbres of Noonan’s usually sunny register. Paul Grabowsky’s setting of Company of Lovers with knocking rhythms and lonely harmonics in the violin spoke of a search for souls whilst John Rodgers Failure of Communication pushed Noonan’s voice into new territory, using electronic distortion to powerful effect.
The loving collaborative vibe was clear for all to see after interval. British boundary-pushers the Brodsky Quartet were perfect concert partners bringing decades of experience and an easy on-stage presence to equal Katie Noonan who oozes a friendly confidence. The Brodsky Quartet sits apart from more stiff-shirted colleagues for their willingness to explore multiple genres, within and outside the classical mainstream. Technically brilliant, all four musicians enjoyed their moment to shine in the three works for String Quartet by Peter Sculthorpe, Andrew Ford and most touchingly in the poignant Cradle Song by Robert Davidson which enjoyed deliciously warm solo moments from violist Paul Cassidy.
This welcome interlude provided a springboard into the final set of the night, from the fun and slightly ridiculous My moodswings/I almost had a weakness by Elvis Costello to the strangeness of Bjork’s Hyperballad. Noonan’s voice is unique and enveloping, never forced or undisciplined. She has exceptionally pure pitch of which classical musicians are in awe (having had the pleasure of playing with her a number of times myself I can safely say how respected and admired she is in the classical world) and the unerring ability to create and maintain a musical thread.
Already sated, the audience warmly welcomed two encores culminating in Noonan’s own Love‘s My Song For You, a wedding present to her husband, clearly adored by the Brodsky Quartet and cementing her authority as among Australia’s iconic voices.
The picture of Katie Noonan is by Amanda Lee Starkey,