Classical Review: Sir Les on song

Steven Isserlis / Barry Humphries

Wigmore Hall, London

Do not adjust your senses. It's Sunday evening at the Wigmore Hall, with cellist Steven Isserlis, a mixed bag of composers, and comedian Barry Humphries. Odd though it sounds, this was the prospect on offer for serious audiences to close a dull November weekend. Do not adjust your senses; do not adjust your sex.

Which is, perhaps, by way of suggesting that the guest of honour was not Dame Edna but Sir Les Patterson, that bibulous comic illusion, dredged up from the deeps of our willing capacity for national prejudice and humorous self deception. In a shiny carapace of an electric blue jacket, Sir Les rounded off this slice of the Wigmore Hall's current Australian season by intruding into an encore of The Swan. (At last: a marsupial in The Carnival of the Animals!)

With Isserlis and pianist Susan Tomes in supporting roles, he sang an ode in praise of great Australians. It was, no doubt, a demeaning three minutes for his fellow compatriots, but his British audience loved it. Did they also grasp, in the soapy scenes of the "old country" painted in an earlier work, Cries of Australia, how as dotard "Sandy" Stone, Humphries satirised heritage views of Britain, and our own nostalgia for how and why Australians should still love us.

Ross Edwards' music for this piece was more ballad snatches than dreamy lullabies. There were plenty of the latter, however, in James Helme Sutcliffe's Avatar and David Fanshawe's The Awakening both for cello and piano. Though clearly no pseudonym for Humphries' own compositional activity, Fanshawe, intrepid composer and ethnographical researcher, could be a Humphries creation. To prove otherwise, however, he was there in person to take justified applause for his music. Inspired by the flight of frigate birds, it was a perfect vehicle for the soloist's power to wax lyrical over piano arpeggios with flowing, round-toned melody.

In contrast, ...though now we sleep... by the Canadian composer David Duke, gave Isserlis a score that seemed perfectly written for cello technique in contemporary terms. A shame, then, that the most original music it contained was heard in snatches of native folksong projected on the accompanying tape.

As a viable medium, tape and cello solo were more artfully used in Carl Vine's Inner World, a weighty, sonata-like structure by one of Australia's leading international composers. In a maze of darting, daring electronic sounds, Isserlis projected a flow of ever-increasing momentum, with a final dash for the finishing line in a riot of C major triple stopping. You were on the edge of your seat for the first and only time in this evening of humour and fine playing - but otherwise variable musical quality.

Nicholas Williams

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    SThree: Recruitment Resourcer

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: Do you want to get in...

    Ashdown Group: Project Manager - Birmingham - up to £40,000 - 12 month FTC

    £35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Manager - Birmingham - ...

    SThree: Recruitment Consultant - IT

    £25000 - £30000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: Sthree are looking fo...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin (based in London)

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + commission: SThree: Real Staffing's Pharmaceutical...

    Day In a Page

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before