Can you think of anything more free-ranging than a concert which includes the Inch Worm song and Blake’s Tyger, Rudolph the Red-nose reindeer and a 13th century Benedictine Nun’s lullaby, and much more besides? I certainly wouldn’t have before we attended a concert on Friday titled A Free Range Christmas by the wonderful Song Company.
The Song Company is an Australian vocal ensemble which was formed in 1984. It comprises 6 singers – and they perform music, often if not mostly a capella, in a wide range of styles. Their website states that they sing music from the 10th century to the present day – well, you can tell that from my little intro to this post can’t you! The website also states that they have an ongoing relationship with Australian poet Les Murray. That explains why our show was introduced by their Artistic Director, Roland Peelman, reciting Les Murray’s “Animal Nativity” poem.
Anyhow, we have seen the Song Company before – back in 2003 when they did their Venetian Carnival, a theatrical musical (or is it musical theatrical?) journey through the music of some of the great composers of Venice such as Monteverdi, for Musica Viva. It was an exciting concert and I’ve wanted to see more of them ever since. Their performances usually include a theatrical element and this was so on Friday night, though it was not quite as flamboyant as the Venetian Carnival.
A free range Christmas comprised a wide range (ha!) of songs about animals – many but by no means all – with a Christmas theme. Several were composed by contemporary Australian composer, Martin Wesley-Smith, including his humorous “Lost snail” and “I’m a slug”. They really did mean “free ranging”! The show was loosely held together by a little running joke to do with a Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer Christmas ornament…and we did eventually get, more or less, a rendition of the song. Highlights for me included a beautiful version of “Wimoweh”/”Mbube” (how many ways can you do this song?), a sung arrangement of Blake’s “The Tyger”, a gorgeous version of my sentimental favourite “Carol of the birds”, and a very entertaining presentation of “The twelve days of Christmas”. Put this together with three men and three women who can sing with great versatility, as well as recite and act a little, and you have a great night out.
Not everyone in our party loved it though. Some thought it a little slow to start – and perhaps starting with a set of serious but beautiful early and lesser known songs was not the way to engage the children in the audience. Some did not like the humour, which veered (though only lightly) I suppose towards the nonsense/silly/music hall variety, but the rest of us thought it just about right for the Christmas season – all the moreso when we repaired downtown for an after-show snack and had to battle our way through multitudes of pub-crawling Santas. Each to his (her) own as they say!
Clive Birch, Bass
Richard Black, Tenor
Mark Donnelly, Baritone
Ruth McCall, Soprano
Nicole Thompson, Soprano (guest artist)
Lanneke Wallace-Wells, Mezzo-soprano (guest artist)