Unlikely partner creates an ideal tension – The Song Company ‘Tears of St Peter’

The Tears of St Peter

The Song Company, Artistic Director Roland Peelman, Satsuki Odamura, koto,

The crypt of St Mary’s Cathedral, Monday April 2nd 8 pm.

At first, it seemed incongruous to include the Japanese koto in The Song Company’s present programme of Orlando di Lasso’s Lagrime di San Pietro (The Tears of Peter) performed in the crypt of St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney. There seemed to be little connection between the two. It turned out to be a stroke of genius.

Under the unwavering and unobtrusive direction of Roland Peelman, the singers – sopranos Susannah Lawergren and Anna Fraser, mezzo-soprano Lanneke Jones, tenor Richard Black, baritone Mark Donnelly and bass Clive Birch – were joined by guest baritone Koen Vanstaede, and virtuoso Satsuki Odamura on koto and bass koto, to perform Orlando di Lasso’s cycle of 21 sacred madrigals, his final composition, for which he used the stanzas of 16th century poet Luigi Tansillo.

The intrinsic division of the madrigals into groups of three, offered breaks in the narrative during which Odamura performed interludes on the kotos, improvised, but developed from the preceding musical themes. It was a perfect foil for intensifying the drama.

The Tears of Peter is based on the Biblical tale of St Peter’s denial of Christ at the time of His arrest. Yet, it is more than a simple tale, as the text and the music take us through confrontation, accusation, St Peter’s agony as he lives with regret and shame, and finally, redemption. The tale is wrapped in an uneasy coil of tension, perfectly depicted by the sounds of the plectrum on the koto strings. Whilst the koto is capable of making the gentlest of sounds, in this performance Odamura created percussiveness, dissonance, crunchy modal cadences and edgy glissandi which craved resolution in the way that St Peter would have craved release from his guilt and shame.

As always, The Song Company delivered a gorgeous but disciplined sound and a stylistically informed performance. They were sensitive to the stony acoustic and the smaller space, avoiding the sonic swirl that can result from reverberation that echos back and forth. The more intimate space suited the sound of the kotos, allowing the homophonic detail to be heard, but allowing layers of sound to be piled on and to grow when many strings were strummed and families of strings vibrated in sympathy.

Acoustics apart, the crypt of St Mary’s Cathedral is the perfect venue for this repertoire. The audience is embraced by its network of vaulted arches which mirror, to quote Roland Peelman’s programme notes Lasso’s ‘frequent imitation, inner dialogue….and broad harmonic arch”.

Roland Peelman’s informal al fresco pre-concert talk allowed insights into his understanding of the work and his realisation of it. The programme notes are robust and contain the full text of the stanzas.

Sydney is indeed fortunate to have an ensemble of this depth of talent and breath of intellect.

Shamistha de Soysa for Sounds Like Sydney

The Song Company performs The Tears of St Peter in the crypt of St Mary’s Cathedral, on Tuesday the 3rd and Wednesday the 4th of April at 8 pm.

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