Hues of green and blue set the scene for a spellbinding concert, Dreams and Visions presented by the Southern Cross Soloists, programmed after the postponement of July’s scheduled concert due to the Queensland COVID lockdown. The more formal Concert Hall seating also replaced the usual intimate setting of the audience surrounding the stage, and several musicians had to be substituted because of the continuing border restrictions. Fortunately, where there is a will, there is a way, as they say, and due to the adaptability of the performers and the support of QPAC, the show went ahead.
James Wannan was replaced by Queensland Symphony Orchestra tutti violist, Nicole Greentree, and clarinettist Ashley Smith was replaced by Paul Dean, the founding Artistic Director of the Southern Cross Soloists, and the Artistic Director of Ensemble Q. Accomplished soloist and recitalist Susan Collins was also a last-minute substitute for the injured QSO violinist, Alan Smith. Despite the postponements and substitutions, the Southern Cross Soloists delivered a sublime aural dreamscape, painting a whirl of subjective visions into each psyche.
Vivaldi’s Oboe Concerto in D Minor opened the concert, translating a Venetian’s experiences of Spain through the virtuosic skills of the oboist. Southern Cross Soloists’ Artistic Director Tania Frazer hypnotised the audience, dipping and winding like a snake charmer, whilst weaving trills and roulades with the ensemble to recreate a fruity phonic tapestry.
The deep mellow cello in Bruch’s Kol Nidrei mimics the opening of the cantor’s voice when reciting the declaration of All Vows in the synagogue for the Jewish Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. The contrasting second sorrowful Hebrew melody derived from the text of Lord Byron’s Oh! Weep For Those That Wept By Babel’s Stream, entwines the two very different melodies with the two keys of D Major and D Minor into a beautiful haunting masterpiece. Guest cellist and Co-Artistic Director of Ensemble Q, Trish Dean, displayed her outstanding skills in this technically difficult piece. Clarinettist Paul Dean’s long fascination with Bruch’s Romantic Classicism and long working relationship with Frazer was evident. There was a comfortable synergy between the two instruments, having performed together since Frazer was 16. “So only around ten years!” she had cheekily exclaimed.
Saint-Saëns’ Morceau de Concert replaced the originally planned Harold in Italy by Berlioz, chosen by Australian-Austrian French horn player, Nick Mooney. He is currently a “COVID refugee”, who fortuitously returned from the UK at the start of the pandemic where he was guest principal with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. All three movements were composed to exploit the versatility of the new French horn’s valve mechanisms. Mooney’s frenetic fingering was incredible and the resonant timbre of the horn around the Concert hall was reminiscent of the cries of a blue whale!
Two exquisite masterpieces followed – one from 19th-century France, and the other a 21st-century Australian world premiere. Debussy’s Prélude à l’aprés-midi d’un faune was described by Bruneau, a contemporary of Debussy, as “one of the most exquisite instrumental fantasies the young French school has produced”. The eight Southern Cross Soloist musicians summoned fairies and nymphs into the psyche and for nine minutes the real world vanished! The haunting virtuosic flute solo of Queenslander Jonathan Henderson entwined with rivulets of melody played by multi-award-winning pianist Roger Cui to recreate a fantastical daydream in the forest. This composition by Debussy shifted the paradigm of orchestral compositions from Wagnerian-styled dialogue to musical impressionism by using whole-tone scales and ambiguous harmonies.
Another Australian COVID refugee, the Renaissance man, composer Joe Twist, escaped Hollywood last year and so he was commissioned to compose The Ancient Rainforest. It was inspired by the song of the butcher bird outside his West End apartment window and by the giant paintings of the Queensland rainforest at Springbrook by William Robinson. He encapsulated the mystery of the ancient forest in a musical portrait using the mystical, guttural sound of the didgeridoo, played by Artist in Residence Chris Williams. Williams, a versatile musician and descendent of the Wakka Wakka people entered to the side of the auditorium filling the concert hall with the dawn chatter of the butcher bird combined with rhythmic flicking and the drone of the didgeridoo. The screaming glissando of the cello accompanied by oboe and strings created a subliminal lullaby that delved into a forested fantasy. Twist’s film soundtrack experience was evident, as the music ebbed and flowed to the rhythm of the rainforest. When the last note of the digeridoo faded into oblivion the audience became ecstatic with cries of “Bravo”, raucous applause and stamping feet.
The audience finally calmed down for the finale, Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé Suite No 2, which had been expertly arranged by Composer in Residence, John Rotar, from a full orchestra to using only nine musicians. A second piano, played by the young accomplished Ruby Luck, replaced the role of the harp to deliver another ethereal masterpiece with a spectrum of textures and a sublime flute solo from Henderson.
The Southern Cross Soloists delivered a delightful dreamscape bursting with technical skill and Australian flair. In the words of Carl Jung, in his Memories, Dreams, Reflections, “What nature leaves imperfect, the art perfects.”