Songmakers Australia: The Australian Connection

“Celebrating the life and profession of soprano Merlyn Quaife AM, champion of Australian Artwork Tune” was the subtitle of Songmakers Australia’s newest live performance in a full-house Primrose Potter Salon. In 2013, she was made a Member of the Order of Australia Award for “vital service to music”, and each member of the viewers would have been conscious of the large contribution she has made – not solely to Australian Artwork Tune, but in addition as an educator and a performer of an enormous array of vocal music requiring a superlative vocal method and unrivalled musicality.

Want a soprano for an atonal extravaganza? Ask Merlyn Quaife. Want a very dependable soprano, who could be heard above an orchestra and refrain in a vocally difficult function? Merlyn Quaife. Many people have been dazzled by her virtuosity in Schönberg’s Pierrot Lunaire and equally impressed by her terribly transferring interpretation of Schumann’s Frauenliebe und –leben, From Early Music, via Bach, Haydn, Handel, Donizetti and Wagner to John Adams, Ligeti and a number of Australian composers of New Music, she has continued to astonish us along with her versatility for greater than 5 many years. She has additionally impressed many composers to create splendid works particularly designed for her skills.

This celebratory 70th birthday recital attracted a number of notable Australian composers wishing to pay tribute to Merlyn’s achievements and listen to their works sung by the artist for whom they had been written. For a one-hour program it should have been tough to decide on essentially the most acceptable items from the various prospects. One of many guiding ideas would have been the textual content because it has been a crucially vital component of her life as a singer, and it was clear that textual content was additionally a artistic wellspring for the 4 chosen composers. This system notes briefly summarised the importance of every choice.

Johanna Selleck wrote, “I typically have a specific performer in thoughts in all my compositions, and in writing for soprano, it has typically been Merlyn”. Concerning her group of 4 songs that comprise The Prospect and the Bower of Bliss, Selleck described her fascination for playwright and poet Aphra Behn, who was additionally a spy for Charles II and frolicked in a debtor’s jail, including “I really like the imagery and rhythm of her texts”. ‘Tis all everlasting Spring was a mild, languid opening to the recital, the piano regular whereas the voice wove the textual content describing nature’s awakening in sinuous traces. Merlyn’s capability to barter enormous upward leaps and sing mushy, sustained excessive notes with ease was a function of this music and many who adopted. The fantastic thing about the ultimate notice of this music and her capability to attain a finely graduated diminuendo had been a continuing pleasure. After the brilliant tuneful syncopations of Fountains, wandering brooks and the pastoral expressiveness of the temporary The verdant banks no different prints retain, it appeared becoming that the sensuous A thousand gloomy walks, with its rippling accompaniment, ended with the softest of pianissimos. This superb assortment of songs has been recorded by Tall Poppies and deserves repeated listening. Though Merlyn Quaife has wonderful diction and is each vocally and bodily an expressive singer, it’s typically tough to select up all of the phrases of a textual content, particularly within the increased registers, so accessing the textual content can deepen appreciation of a piece.

Poems by Judith Wright present the textual content for 5 songs comprising Richard Mills’ Right here the place Loss of life and Life are Met. Extra atonal in nature than Selleck’s work, it explores our response to the pure world in songs of contrasting character. From the glowing heat of The Orange Tree, to the assertive chords, ardour and mild ending of Flame tree in a Quarry, the story-telling drama of with its repeated, busy piano determine and, lastly, to the darkish tolling piano chords that moved to a happier lyricism in Darkness the place I Discover my Sight, we had been taken on a journey the place Merlyn created and held a particular ambiance for every music. It was fairly actually given the thumbs up by Mills because the viewers applauded.

Merlyn’s devotion to Lieder and hyperlinks to Germany have been main points of her inventive life. This relationship discovered expression in two songs by younger composer and cellist Luke Severn. He says he wrote them “with Merlyn’s incomparable voice ringing in my ears … I made a decision to set these texts as a result of I understand how a lot she enjoys singing in German”. A deep connection to the language is one he shares, and his setting of poetry by Goethe for Wanders Nachtlied I and II had been moments of serenity and wonder. Paying homage to Richard Strauss in fashion, the textual content (printed in German and English in this system) was conveyed with the utmost sensitivity and great thing about tone.

A change of tempo got here with Keith Humble’s Eight Cabaret Songs, settings of poems by W. B. Yeats, Robert Graves, A. D. Hope, Wordsworth and Auden. Quick, melodious and customarily upbeat, they enabled Merlyn to show her expertise for comedy, most notably in Consuming Tune. The ominous darkish chord that ended this system for Inform me the reality about love was the fruits of some nice story-telling in quick waltz time.

Two encores signalled additional vital components of Merlyn’s profession. The primary, Gordon Kerry’s Night time after bushfire, a part of his By means of the Fireplace cantata from 2003, is among the items she has sung most frequently. Roger Heagney, who has shared in her musical life at St Francis’ Church, composed the ultimate merchandise. The Little Flower, set to a poem by Michael Leunig, is an appealingly easy music with gently chiming chords and harp-like piano prospers.

As a extremely expert, delicate accompanist and Merlyn’s Songmakers Australia collaborator for the previous ten years, Andrea Katz was the proper companion for this celebration.

The extended standing ovation on the finish was not solely an acknowledgement of Merlyn Quaife’s excellent contribution to Australia’s cultural life, it additionally mirrored an appreciation of her undiminished artistry and a vocal method that may endure for a few years to return. Brava Merlyn!


Heather Leviston reviewed Songmakers Australia’s “The Australian Connection”, celebrating the life and profession of Merlyn Quaife on the Melbourne Recital Centre, Primrose Potter Salon on July 20, 2022.