Katie Noonan and Sartory String Quartet
Reviewer: David Cusworth
Katie Noonan’s voice has so many shades of color and light that it was always meant for an art gallery.
That the Queensland singer-songwriter chose the Art Gallery of WA and the all-female string quartet Sartory for the unveiling is a story of inspiration and perseverance to match the crazy and brave phenomenon of the Perth Festival.
Always at home with the strings, Noonan’s passion and precision nurtured and refined the warm, even tones of the violins, viola and cello in a celebration of his work and a tribute to one of his angels, poet and activist Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Kath Walker).
An opening dedication and references in commentary and repertoire anchored Noonan’s artistry in Noonuccal’s legacy, but also gave free rein to his own voice and violinists Pascale Whiting and Susannah Williams, the violist Kathy Potter and cellist Sophie Curtis.
Quiet Day, to begin with, was fresh and melodious; a flow of portamento in the voice contrasting with the solid tones of the grand piano; completed with strings and richly resonant in the cadence.
Bluebird took Noonan to the land of Noonuccal; swirling string and piano rhythms invoking nature, soaring vocals counterpoint with soft cello and violin harmonics. Noonan has a range of tone and register that could duet with an entire orchestra and the quartet rose to the challenge well.
I Found You was a gently reflective ballad celebrating 23 years of soulmate love, punctuated by the quartet with lush melody and dense harmony; a dark hum on the C cello string perhaps a memento mori.
Peace is My Drug, a collaboration with poet and cartoonist Michael Leunig, rang bells from the piano, cascading down to settle like a cooling balm; a rustle of strings giving a contemplative atmosphere, with a stamp of devotion in the voice.
The quartet’s sing-song chords underpinned a hymn to romance in Love’s My Song, a steady rhythm backing a free-form vocal line; while Broken, a lament for a lost friendship, was poignantly orchestrated and sung, with hints of jazz in the piano accompaniment.
Three pieces commissioned by Queensland composers changed the whole.
Late Spring, by Elena Kats-Chernin with lyrics by Judith Wright, brought mystery to the strings to complement the mercurial moonlight-evoking vocals.
The Curlew Cried channeled Noonuccal with music by Thomas Green, unleashing the ethereal expanse of Noonan’s range on a soundscape drawn from nature; one of the most complex compositions giving the quartet a symphonic drive in crushed chords and episodic transitions.
Balance (Noonuccal-Robert Davidson) was a delicate meditation on death over dark harmonies turning into a hint of menace in counter-melody as Noonan explored the heights of the art gallery foyer: improbable but forgiving acoustics well managed.
A Song of Hope united Noonan and Noonuccal, easing the pain of dispossession with fierce joy in “The Glad Tomorrow” – the theme and title of Noonan’s 2019 album with the Australian String Quartet.
Finally, an encore-not-a-yet of Breathe in Now – a pop ballad steeped in classic lines and sweet vocals – chilled a momentous night.
Noonan had planned to present his new vocal quartet AVE – featuring Perth mezzo-soprano Fiona Campbell and Sydney-based Andrews O’Connor and Goodwin.
The COVID quarantine put that plan in jeopardy, but serendipity in the Sartory Quartet provided a soprano-alto-tenor-bass in an all-female lineup.
Katie Noonan and Sartory Quartet play two final shows at AGWA on Saturday, February 19 at 7 and 9 p.m., then at the Bunbury Regional Entertainment Center on Sunday, February 20 at 4 p.m.