Plectra Ensemble

16th May 2006
Eneksis vocal ensemble

30th May 2006
Conservatorium Auditorium


reviewed by Neville Cohn


The Plectra Ensemble, a nine-strong classical guitar choir – performers who are currently students at both the Conservatorium of Music and UWA’s School of Music as well as post-graduate players – was taken through its paces by director Jonathan Paget who also teaches a number of the guitarists.

Apart from arrangements of two of Granados’ Danzas Espanolas, all the music presented was written between 1993 and 2006.

Philip Houghton has an unusual background in that his main occupation is mining for opals. He is also a largely self-taught composer. His score for Opals is dotted with instructions that call Erik Satie’s quirky, even surreal, tongue-in-cheek directions to mind.

Of the work’s three movements, it was the central piece – Water Opal, that lingers in the memory, not least for its quiet, languid, shimmering haze of sound and soft golpo thuddings. White Opal is another delight with its gentle murmurings.

Rory O’Donaghue’s Jubiloso fell most pleasingly on the ear, a most accessible offering that radiates a sunny optimism.

Duncan Gardiner’s Postcards poses puzzles for the ear. From what countries are these musical missives posted? Gardiner has not revealed this, leaving the listener to make a geographical judgement. Could the first be somewhere in Greece with its intriguing rhythmic pattern that calls the theme music of the movie Zorba the Greek to mind? Piece no 2 has a folksy, Celtic quality; the third sounds vaguely Italianate.

Of the two Granados pieces, No 5 – Andaluza – fared best with pleasing touches of rubato. But No 2 – Oriental – sounded unusually slow with trills in the melody line not always evenly spun.

There was more guitar music at a lunchtime concert in April in which Karl Hiller made magic of Brett Dean’s Sleepwalker in a Storm.

An abiding recollection of these performances is their consistent refinement of taste whether in relation to quality of tone or the shaping of a phrase.

Eneksis, a vocal ensemble coached and directed by Michael McCarthy, offered fascinating fare in the form of Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Romancero Gitano for choir and guitar.

In what was claimed to be a first performance in Western Australia, the singers of Eneksis responded to the score in singing of a most tasteful sort. In fact, the quality of corporate sound could hardly be faulted; it was a joy to listen to although whether this consistently mellow, rather ecclesiastical, sound was entirely appropriate to the work could be debated. Some of the brief solo contributions were intonationally dubious, though.

McCarthy prefaced the performance of Romencero with a disconcertingly lengthy spoken introduction. Could this effusion not have been given in the form of a pre-concert talk or a printed program note which would surely have sufficed?

Romancero is a setting of texts by famed Spanish poet and dramatist Federico Garcia Lorca. And as McCarthy indicated in his tediously drawn out commentary, cante jondo is a factor in Romencero. In the simplest of terms, cante jondo could be thought of as flamenco singing of a deep and sombre kind, the antithesis of flamenco chico which relates to the lighter, even frivolous and cheeky, side of the flamenco experience.

But in the performance, beautifully modulated as it was with splendid clarity of line, impeccable phrasing and distribution of sound, there was barely a hint of jondo quality. The presentation sounded more in the style of the Anglican church tradition.

Jonathan Paget played, as ever, with commendable musicality and intonational security – and he was the only one onstage who wore shoes. Everyone else sported black socks. Why?

Croce’s O Vos Omnes was beautifully sung as was Ride in the Chariot, a traditional gospel song.


Copyright Neville Cohn 2006

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