Heroes, Gods and Mortals

hymnThe Talisker Players’ latest show is pretty typical of what they do best; partner with some excellent singers and an actor to create an interesting program of words and music on a given theme.  Last night, as the title suggests, the theme was classical mythology; a rich enough seam for almost anything!  Most of the musical works chosen were twentieth century or later with only excerpts from a Pergolesi cantata harking back to an era that drew more heavily on these sources.

The first piece was Alan Hovhaness’ Hercules for soprano and violin performed by Carla Huhtanen and Elizabeth Loewen Andrews.  This was so very Hovhaness; haunting, disturbing and very beautiful.  It seems as rooted in the pre-classical world as the Heroic Age but perhaps that’s just a kind of timelessness.  It’s a perfect fit for Carla and the violin playing was beautiful too.

John Plant’s Invocation to Aphrodite is a setting of Greek texts by Sappho.  The music is an attempt to catch the multi-layered and shimmering nature of classical Greek verse and does so rather well.  Again, a fine performance, this time by Andrea Ludwig with the Talisker strings and Peter Longworth at the piano.

Swapping out Andrea for Carla we next got excerpts from Joaquin Turina’s Las Musas de Andalucia.  This is a slightly weird mix of Andalusian influences and modernism.  Some of it is set very high and it’s quite chromatic.  It’s all supposed to represent the Muses though I’m not sure texts or music really do that.  Again, very well performed.

After the Intermission we got Monica Pearce’s Leda Songs; a setting of texts by Rilke, HD and DH Lawrence for mezzo, clarinet and string trio.  It’s a very interesting piece with a constant dialogue between voice and clarinet/bass clarinet.  Interesting texts too; by turns quite explicit and strangely allusive but all, I think, getting to the heart of the Leda myth.  Most interesting to listen to, especially the unusual clarinet part.

The oldest work on the card was excerpts from Pergolesi’s Orfeo.  We got two rects and two da capo arias sung by Carla with the strings and David Sandall on harpsichord.  I thought this was the least interesting piece of the night and didn’t seem to be a particularly good fit for Carla’s voice.

The final piece; four songs from Weill’s One Touch of Venus was rather a contrast with everything up to that point.  It’s Weill in full on Broadway mode setting texts that Marlene dietrich found too racy.  That didn’t seem to bother Andrea who gave a very idiomatic and sexy performance accompanied by strings and clarinet.

So, an interesting and varied program and one where the most interest was concentrated in the most contemporary pieces.  The texts too; ranging from Hesiod through Keats and Cavafy to Carson, Durrell and Macaulay were very well chosen and beautifully read by Ross Manson.

The show is repeated tonight at 8pm at Trinity St. Paul’s.  Judging by last night’s rather sparse attendance you shouldn’t have any trouble getting a ticket.

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