Amarcord reviewed in Sydney Morning Herald

High and lows of love and death in voice
Peter McCallum, Sydney Morning Herald
August 1, 2012

RENAISSANCE composers took particular and occasionally indecent delight in setting words exploiting death as a metaphor for sexual fulfilment, never tiring of the double entendres in death’s pain, dying of love and dying a thousand deaths.

Wagner, it was thought, had the last word with Tristan and Isolde, but then came Strauss’s Salome, death metal and renewed fascination in our time.

For this Musica Viva concert, the male vocal quintet Amarcord built a program of 16th, 19th, 20th and 21st-century music around the theme, setting it off with some juicy murders to relieve the prevailing mood of enervated languor.
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Carlo Gesualdo commands special attention as composer and murderer, and Amarcord’s performance of his madrigal Io tacero, with its harmonically innovative flashes of chromatic colour, set the high watermark for representations of delirious sensuality.

Love also had its rollicking side and the first half, devoted to Renaissance works, also included Josquin des Prez and Orlando di Lasso’s more earthy love-making. The singers strung it all together with affectionately laboured double entendres of their own, ending the first half with one of the onomatopoeic sound-effects madrigals of Clement Janequin’s La Guerre (The War), delivered with virtuosity and alarming enthusiasm.

Lively theatricality and wit are but two of their virtues. The sound is always smooth yet flexible enough to preserve its wholeness in riotous chaotic textures as well as pristine moments. Preserving vocal tone, the volume rarely rises above moderate, achieving variety instead through brilliant exploration of vocal resonances within the mouth cavity, whether the aim is a gleaming edge or diaphanous softness.

The vowel sounds have beautiful purity, as in Saint-Saens’ Saltarelle, Poulenc’s Drinking Song, and in German texts set by Schubert, Mendelssohn and Marschner. A selection from contemporary German composer Marcus Ludwig’s Sechs Triviallieder revealed a darker humour in folk-like melodies and sophisticated vocal textures.

After virtuosic displays of textural fluidity, their quiet encore with Australian jazz vocal group The Idea of North went straight to the heart.

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