Songs of Travel

The main purpose of yesterday’s RBA concert was to showcase the prodigious talents of the five members of the COC’s Orchestra Academy; Isabel Lago and Ah Young Kim (violins), John Sellick (viola), Mansur Kadirov (cello) and Peter Eratostene (bass).  The first half of the programme was the Allegro from Dvorák’s String Quintet No. 2 in G Major.  This was very nicely done and served as a satisfying prelude to the main event.

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The five were joined by Rachael Kerr and Vartan Gabrielian for a performance of Vaughan Williams setting of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Songs of Travel in an arrangement for piano and strings by John Greer.  It’s a work I’ve heard many, many times in the standard piano version.  After all pretty much any baritone of note has recorded it!  It was fascinating.  With six players it’s on the cusp between singing with piano and singing with orchestra.  The instrumentalists have to work off each other (no conductor) while still allowing the singer room to express himself.  The different timbres; especially the low strings, affect how the singers sings.  A bass-baritone has a very different sound from a piano but accompanied by cello and bass has to do something a bit different to project the text.

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All of these challenges were effectively met to produce the work sounding very fresh and very interesting.  Vartan’s conveying of the text; words and emotions, was highly effective.  The instrumentalists sounded terrific with some really interesting playing from the strings (much pizzicato) and Rachael not-quite-conducting from the piano.  I don’t know that I prefer Songs of Travel this way compared to piano only but I’m very glad I got the chance to experience it.

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Photos by Chris Hutcheson.

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