Watching Sara Macliver and Fiona Campbell celebrate the joy of sharing music was like stepping back into the halcyon pre-COVID-19 days. No social distancing, no masks and no anxiety – Perth seemed very distant in all respects from what artists and audiences are experiencing in Melbourne at the moment. No wonder the plague-free states are so keen to preserve this special brand of freedom for as long as they can.
Thanks to Melbourne Digital Concert Hall’s ongoing commitment to supporting Australian musicians wherever they may be, we were virtually transported to the Green Room of Government House, Perth to enjoy an assortment of Divine Duets plus a couple of equally divine solos. Pianist Tommaso Pollio accompanied all items with sensitivity and skill, be they piano transcriptions from operatic orchestral scores or the two, more pianistically rewarding mélodies: Hahn’s A Chloris and Poulenc’s Les chemins de l’amour – both sung with simple, unaffected feeling by Macliver and Campbell respectively. We shared the pleasure they found in each other’s rendition of these miniature masterpieces.
Most of the program comprised familiar duets, beginning with a spirited account of Bach’s Wir eilen mit schwachen from Cantata BWV 78 . It was immediately apparent that musical and vocal compatibility, honed by years of singing together and close friendship, would be a key element of this recital. The precise, crystalline “ping” of Macliver’s soprano and honeyed warmth of Campbell’s mezzo-soprano make an exciting and satisfying combination. The penultimate item, “Mira o Norma” from Bellini’s Norma, with its wide vocal range and parallel staccato upward runs can sound as though the singers are threading their way along a dangerous precipice, but these two divine divas managed to make them sound like a thrilling adventure. After such an exciting ride, we could appreciate a certain joking reluctance to embark on the river journey of Delibes’ “Flower Duet” from Lakme. But float along they did in the most mellifluous way. The aquatic theme had already been set with an animated “Volga Tonio!” from Rossini’s La Regata Veneziana.
A duet from Handel’s Theodora, “Evening Prayer” from Humperdink’s Hansel and Gretel and two Mozart duets revealed more operatic pleasures. Relaxed and charming, both singers spoke about the works, providing a context for each item. From the fun of “Prendero quel brunettino” from Cosi fan tutte, a more serious nuance was found by Campbell in “Sull’aria” from The Marriage of Figaro. That such an intensely moving experience could be experienced in a short excerpt from a long Mozart opera came as a surprise, but Campbell’s portrayal of the Countess’s reactions to the writing of the entrapment letter was exquisitely done.
In addition to one of the most well-known songs ever written: Amazing Grace – sung with just that, the relatively seldom-performed Six Duets, Op. 63 by Mendelssohn was given captivating treatment. The inclusion of the German/English texts in the MDCH link was also most welcome.
Divine Duets lived up to its name and reminded us that performing to a live audience is something to be treasured. Even with the distancing effect of the digital experience, there was none of that discomfiting atmosphere of sterility that can so often come without it.
Heather Leviston reviewed Sara Macliver and Fiona Campbell – Divine Duets, streamed from the Green Room, Government House Perth by Melbourne Digital Concert Hall on September 2, 2021.