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David Greco and the Australian Haydn Ensemble play Schubert
The program was interspersed with selected movements from Les Quatre Saisons of French composer Félicien David. Born 13 years after Schubert, it's likely David was influenced by the songs of Schubert in the composition of this work. The Australian Haydn Ensemble – this time led by Simone Slattery – performed these pieces unaccompanied, allowing Greco time to gather his forces in between songs.
It was easy to see why he needed to conserve his energy. David Greco's singing was close to perfect. The program allowed him to show off his vocal range, technique and impeccable diction. The intimacy of the venue brought audience members up close and personal, near enough to see the preparation he put into the delivery of each note while making it appear effortless.
It was a delight to see the enjoyment with which Greco approached each piece, and how it was communicated to the members of the Ensemble and the audience. In his introduction, Greco described Schubert as 'a Guardian reader' and a social and cultural progressive. For the first of the songs on the program, Schubert used a stanza from Schiller's poem Die Götter Griechenlands (The Gods of Greece), to allude to the Viennese ongoing struggle for a national identity. He used music to add a communicative layer to already profound texts.
His songs used the words of poets including Spaun, Müller and Goethe to evoke conversations between Death and a cast of characters including a young man, a maiden and even a child. Müller's The Hurdy-Gurdy Man is the basis of one of Schubert's Winterreise songs, describing the final phase of life of a social outcast.
'There beyond the village Stands an organ-grinder, And with numb fingers
He plays as best he can. Barefoot on the ice,
He sways back and forth,
And his little plate
Is always empty.'
That explains the bare feet. Clearly David Greco is a man who suffers for his art, although he showed no sign of doing anything but enjoying himself hugely at St John's. The penultimate song was set to Goethe's Der Erlkönig (The Elf King), a Grimm-like fairytale whose English translation Greco recited in dramatic style. Together with the Ensemble, he followed the recitation with a superb performance of Schubert's song delivered in Old German, in all its horrifying drama.
The program concluded with Schubert's An Die Musik, written to express his thanks and love for the art of music. Often called his ode to music, it was a kind of prayer of thanksgiving; a fitting and joyous ending to a sometimes gruelling, always brilliant celebration of music in this sacred space.