Tesoro | Coro Austral


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Image by Vanessa Goryl

The specialty Spanish and Latin American a capella choir of Sydney are joined by two guests for a showcase of Spanish music and poetry. Curated by Coro Austral’s artistic director Margot McLaughlin, the Tesoro program is dedicated to treasures for piano, guitar, and voice.

The program featured pieces for each instrument individually to show off the performers’ talents. “Fantasia Baetica” composed by Manuel de Falla of Spain and played by Mauro Colombis on the piano was a grand piece with plenty of runs up and down the scale where Colombis had to balance a sense of urgency against moments of rambling revelries. Frequent changes in tone and rhythm are characteristic of Spanish music that attempts great dynamism and surprising turns. Described as such in the program, the piece has a “harsh percussive quality reminiscent of castanets and heel stamping” like a flamenco show.

Ermanno Brignolo played two solo pieces on the guitar starting with “El Rosario” composed by Italian Angela Gilardino. This piece has a strong and repetitive pattern of starting small and building into larger moments that develops a mounting tension throughout the song. It also allows the audience a glimpse into Brignolo’s skill at playing the dual tones of the Romantic guitar, strengthening the pingy, high top notes with the deeper, more resonant undertones. For his second solo, Brignolo played a selection of excerpts from Miguel Llobet’s “Canciones Populares Catalanas” or “Popular Catalonian Songs”. These shorter pieces varied greatly in style and offered a taster of classic rhythms from northern Spain from the cheeky to the cheerful and a dance number to round them out.

A stand-out piece saw Colombis and Brignolo join forces to play “Fantasia Op. 145” by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. The two instruments seemed to dance across a twinkling backdrop as they exchanged sequences of sound. Moving between soft and delicate moments and more intense rhythms, the piece beat along like a heartbeat until Colombis’s piano began a repeating phrase like a grand opening, ushering in the finale. The piece showed off each player beautifully in a rare instrument combination for Spanish-style music.

As the for the central stars of the concert, Coro Austral sung a choral piece and two pieces accompanied by their guest performers. Carlos Guastavino’s “Indianas – Seis Canciones” comes from Argentina in the mid-twentieth century and includes six songs composed for piano. The music has been paired with poetry from Mexico and Argentina which pick up on Guastavino’s traditional folk song influence in his composition. “Gala del dia” is a sweet and light-hearted song with an upbeat piano whereas the following “Quien fuera como el jazmin” is slower and more closely related to typical choral music with a distinct warmth and roundedness. The variance in tone between each song capture many different aspects of South American life and, while sometimes a bit rushed or muddled in performance, was a pleasant meeting between the choir and piano.

For the grand finale of the concert, all performers filled the stage to perform “Romancero Gitano” by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco with lyrics from the poetry of Federico Garcia Lorca. Seven songs took the audience through the fields and valleys of Spain along the Guadalquivir River, into the Easter procession marching through the cobbled city streets, and on to the Andalusian dance floor. The first two songs including “La Guitarra” featured a wild and romantic guitar with interesting layering and repetition from Coro Austral that generated a haunting choral atmosphere. Other songs like “Punal” and “Memento” tried to recreate the intense emotions of love, death, and desire. For the final two songs, the choir brought out the castanets to finish with some strong Spanish flair in a real tribute to the region and its musical traditions.

Combining Spanish, South American, and Italian influences, Tesoro was a dramatic, passionate, and unique showcasing of musical treasures. While not the most precise performers, Coro Austral clearly prioritises the emotion of the music for an all-around enjoyable experience.

Tesoro was played at Mosman Art Gallery on November 2nd

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