The first time she toured West was with her indie-rock band George, next she was fronting the WA Symphony Orchestra then the Australian Chamber Orchestra and venturing into jazz. Now Katie Noonan has taken on (re-invented?) the string quartet genre and, as usual, the Brisbane singer had audiences begging for more.
Noonan and the UK-based Brodsky Quartet created a remarkable tribute to the poet Judith Wright by commissioning ten Australian composers to set her words to music. With so many layers of input – each poem reinterpreted through composition then shaped by the intelligent artistry of the musicians - the result was acutely intense but also very beautiful.
The vignette of Australian composers included Elena Kats-Chernin at her more melancholic in a setting of Late Spring, while the irony of the clipped phrases in After the Visitors was quintessential Andrew Ford. The scurrying string writing in Company of Lovers was Paul Grabowsky’s abstract response to Wright’s ominous Company of Lovers while the regular rhyming couplets of To A Child drew a sweet hymn-like melody from David Hirschfelder.
Noonan’s fabulous coloratura range was exploited in John Rodger’s Failure of Communication and her free-wheeling improvisatory style on display in her own joyful composition The Surfer. Her immaculate control was evident in her incisive delivery of Paul Dean’s atonal Sonnet for Christmas.
Noonan and the versatile Brodsky Quartet (Daniel Rowland, Ian Belton, Paul Cassidy and Jacqueline Thomas) formed a compelling quintet. Noonan’s voice was like an extra instrument sometimes tucked within the ensemble as in Iain Grandage’s Night After Bushfire, or intoning over sparse accompaniment in Richard Tognetti’s Metho Drinker.
After interval the mood mellowed with covers from Bjork, Elvis Costello and Sting played (and arranged) with rock-n-roll swagger by the Brodsky Quartet. Three short gems from Peter Sculthorpe, Andrew Ford and Robert Davidson rounded out the second half.
I don’t remember the last time a program of predominantly contemporary classical Australian music attracted such a young and enthusiastic crowd. Nor can I think of a better tribute to one of Australia’s great poets.
This review copyright The West Australian 2016.