Classical, Early Music, New Music
Tall Poppies TP233.
Reviewed by Inge Southcott, July 1st, 2015
Josie and The Emeralds have received critical acclaim for their concerts in Sydney and Canberra since their formation in 2011. They play an innovative mix of Renaissance works, original compositions by Brooke Green (their director), and her arrangements of both Renaissance and contemporary pieces. They have selected favourites from their current repertoire to produce this, their debut CD. It is excellent, and will ensure their place amongst the top ranks of Australian early music ensembles
“Josie” is Josie Ryan, a soprano who trained initially at Sydney Conservatorium, then studied at The Hague Royal Conservatory (on a Dutch Government grant) where she obtained a Masters degree in Early Vocal Music and Historical Performance Practice. She spent a decade in Europe performing with leading groups like The Tallis Scholars, The Amsterdam Baroque Choir and Collegium Vocale Gents. Her beautiful fresh soprano voice is certainly a delight to hear! It is rare to find such a free production throughout the range in this style of singing where minimal vibrato is preferred. Now back in Sydney, she performs regularly with numerous organisations including Pinchgut Opera, The Australian Brandenburg Choir, Cantillation and as soloist with many leading church choirs.
“The Emeralds” are the Emerald City Viols, a group directed by Brooke Green (a leading baroque violinist, viol and vielle player, and composer) who has extensive experience leading baroque ensembles and as a treble viol soloist. Her composition, The Shades, won the Audience Prize at the 2013 Leo M. Traynor Tenth International Competition for New Music for Viols. It is included on this disc. Laura Moore, Catherine Upex and Fiona Ziegler make up the rest of the consort and all come with impressive credentials in early music. It is exciting to have such an accomplished group based in Sydney so we too can enjoy the burgeoning interest in early music in live performances, and now on this fine disc. To have such interesting and beautiful works written specifically for viols is also an exciting local development.
Dorothy Porter’s poems, audaciously titled Bone Burning Tunes, inspired Green’s four songs for soprano and viols. “The Emerald Leopard” is the second song, the inspiration for the disc title and the programming of works. , and the striking CD cover by Paloma Drehs. Brooke Green explains in the CD notes: the leopard is “a grand object of desire” remaining always untouchable, but “we have been transformed by the desire to reach upwards, to approach the beautiful” and “the potential of the Emerald Leopard to transform modes of perception has been a guiding force in putting this cd together”. Bone Burning Tunes are varied in style, though all basically tonal, with lyrical melodies for the voice, and effective and evocative word painting. “Hot Date” provides a sharp contrast to the other three, being a jazzy number with a walking bass and a dark humorous touch (the date being with Death!).
Other compositions by Green one can enjoy on the disc are The Shades (the prize-winning piece), Travelling to the Question, Shades of Presence Past and This Body is Not Me. The distinctive mellow tonal qualities of viols and their beautiful blend with their limited dynamic range give these pieces a gentle quality that is most seductive. Often a meditative element was present. Variety to hold the listener’s interest comes with subtle tempo and rhythmic differences and of course the beauty of the soprano’s voice, and the interest of the texts themselves. The beautiful Travelling to the Question has two soprano voices (Ryan and Belinda Montgomery) interweaving gracefully with the strings and uses elements of chant and a melody by Nick Cave (The Carny Song). Also very effective is This Body is Not Me, a song with text about birth and death by Thich Nhat Hanh (b.1926), a renowned Vietnamese Zen Buddhist Monk, teacher, author and poet.
Albanese, composed by Andrea Pandolfo (b.1963) and arranged by Green, is a moving lament of a refugee mother and how moving Ryan can be in her performances. Ross Edwards’ Miniatures is a charming set of 4 gem-like pieces arranged by Green and her arrangement of “Eliza’s Aria” from Wild Swans by Elena Kats-Chernin is very effective and I enjoyed the flexibility and warmth in Ryan’s voice.
I also admired her elegant performances of well-known English Renaissance works such Thomas Morley’s Sing we and Chant It, the three songs of John Dowland (Flow my Tears, In Darkness, Can She Excuse my Wrongs) and the selection of five madrigals of Orlando Gibbons from his 1612 First Set for five voices, which included his renowned The Silver Swan. Flow my Tears is a highlight of the disc –a great song ideally suited to Ryan’s artistry and this recording of a live performance is exquisite in its phrasing. The texts for all works are in the CD booklet along with background information written by Brooke Green that makes for interesting reading.
A most enjoyable disc – a wonderful debut CD by this highly skilled group.