Katie Noonan and Sartory String Quartet
Review: David Cusworth
Katie Noonan’s voice has so many shades of colour and light, she was always destined for an art gallery.
That the Queensland singer-songwriter chose the Art Gallery of WA and the all-female Sartory String Quartet for the unveiling is a tale of inspiration and perseverance fitting the crazy-brave phenomenon of the Perth Festival.
Always at home with strings, Noonan’s passion and precision fed off and finessed the warm, even tones of violins, viola and cello in a celebration of her oeuvre and a homage to one of her angels, the poet and activist Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Kath Walker).
An opening dedication and references in commentary and repertoire anchored Noonan’s art in Noonuccal’s legacy, but also gave free rein to her own voice and violinists Pascale Whiting and Susannah Williams, violist Kathy Potter and cellist Sophie Curtis.
Quiet Day, to open, was fresh and lilting; a portamento flow in voice contrasting with the solid tones of the grand piano; supplemented by strings and richly resonant in the cadence.
Bluebird took Noonan to Noonuccal country; swirling rhythms in strings and piano invoking nature, soaring vocals in counterpoint with mellow cello and violin harmonics. Noonan has a range of tone and register that could duet with an entire orchestra and the quartet rose well to the challenge.
I Found You was a softly reflective ballad celebrating 23 years of soulmate love, punctuated by the quartet with lush melody and dense harmony; a dark drone on the cello C-string perhaps a memento mori.
Peace is My Drug, a collaboration with poet and cartoonist Michael Leunig, drew pealing bells from piano, cascading to settle like cooling balm; a rustling of strings lending contemplative ambience, with devotional timbre in the voice.
Lilting chords from the quartet underpinned a paean to romance in Love’s My Song, steady rhythm sustaining a free-form vocal line; while Broken, a lament for lost friendship, was poignantly orchestrated and sung, with hints of jazz in the piano accompaniment.
Three commissioned pieces by Queensland composers changed up the set.
Late Spring, by Elena Kats-Chernin with lyrics of Judith Wright, brought mystery in the strings to complement mercurial voice evoking moonlight.
The Curlew Cried channelled Noonuccal with music by Thomas Green, releasing the ethereal extent of Noonan’s range over a soundscape drawn from nature; one of the more complex compositions giving the quartet a symphonic workout in crushed chords and episodic transitions.
Balance (Noonuccal-Robert Davidson) was a delicate meditation on death over dark harmonies breaking to a hint of menace in counter melody as Noonan explored the heights of the Art Gallery foyer: an unlikely yet forgiving acoustic well handled all round.
A Song of Hope united Noonan and Noonuccal, keening out the pain of dispossession with a fierce joy in “The Glad Tomorrow” — the theme and title of Noonan’s 2019 album with the Australian String Quartet.
Finally, an encore-not-an-encore of Breathe in Now — a pop ballad infused with classical lines and a gentle singalong — cooled a memorable night.
Noonan had planned to showcase her new vocal quartet AVE — featuring Perth mezzo-soprano Fiona Campbell and Sydney-based Andrews O’Connor and Goodwin.
COVID quarantine kyboshed that plan, but serendipity in the Sartory Quartet furnished soprano-alto-tenor-bass in an all-female lineup.
Katie Noonan and Sartory Quartet play two final shows at AGWA on Saturday, February 19, 7pm and 9pm, then at Bunbury Regional Entertainment Centre on Sunday, February 20, 4pm.