29 Jul 2019

Gareth FARR: Ornithological Anecdotes

From Music Alive, 8:03 pm on 29 July 2019

Performed by baritone Julien Van Mellaerts and pianist James Baillieu. Introduced by Julien Van Mellaerts

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Julien Van Mellaerts and James Baillieu

Julien Van Mellaerts and James Baillieu Photo: Supplied

Gareth Farr, one of our most feted New Zealand composers, has an extensive list of works, including vocal works, but not until 'Ornithological Anecdotes' has he written just for voice and piano. This commission, instigated by Julien Van Mellaerts, brings Farr together with this country’s greatest living poet, Bill Manhire (b. 1946).

‘Dotterel’ is not the first poem by Manhire to have been inspired by watching these brave little birds protecting their young on the sandspit at Opoutere. The filigree of sound in the accompaniment captures the lightness (‘a fluttering and a scurrying’) of the text.

The Takahe, on the other hand, (‘plod a lot’) has an asymmetrical, galumphing 5/8 metre.

Manhire’s Huia poem captures all the sadnesses associated with this vanished bird: its iconic beauty (imprinted on postage stamp and coin); its musical call (Ngā Taonga Sound and Vision say that their recording of Henare Hāmana remembering the sound of the huia is their most requested item); and the damage wrought by human greed. Farr’s setting, with its pianissimo arpeggiated chords and haunting repeated call, is beautifully apt.

Finally the Tui. Manhire’s poem, with its characteristically whimsical tone, portrays the tui as a show-off and a talented mimic. Farr’s setting (marked ‘cocky – with attitude’) plays with the tui’s call – principally the high-pitched, flamboyantly virtuosic flourishes rather than the vulgar coda.

Programme note by Peter Walls, courtesy of Chamber Music New Zealand.

Recorded by RNZ in the Dr John Gallagher Concert Chamber, Hamilton, 10 April 2019
Producer: Tim Dodd; Engineer: Adrian Hollay