Marama Hall – In a poignant homage to the renowned New Zealand author and poet Katherine Mansfield, mezzo soprano Tessa Romano and pianist Sherry Grant graced the stage of Marama Hall with a recital that captivated hearts and celebrated the enduring beauty of Mansfield’s words. This extraordinary performance marked a significant centenary, commemorating 100 years since the passing of Katherine Mansfield.
A highlight of the evening was the presentation of 19 Mansfield texts, each masterfully set to music by a variety of New Zealand composers, many of which had never been heard before in the world. Sherry Grant also enchanted the audience with several short piano interludes composed by Douglas Lilburn, Alfred Hill, and Mary Brett.
The power of Katherine Mansfield’s literary legacy was palpable throughout the recital. Her texts, known for their brilliance, were a poignant reminder of the oft-neglected beauty of poetry, especially in the hustle and bustle of contemporary life. While a printed program thoughtfully contained the poems, it was somewhat disappointing that the names of the composers were not attributed to their respective pieces.
Tessa Romano’s performance was marked by her impeccable clarity of diction. Her intonation was flawless, and her interpretive contemporary vocal delivery was nothing short of excellent. The audience was transported on a lyrical journey through Mansfield’s words, skillfully brought to life by Romano’s emotive and evocative singing.
The recital commenced with three songs by Anthony Ritchie, a Dunedin-based composer. “Exquisite Spirit,” featuring soft and minimally accompanied melodies, contrasted beautifully with “The Sea-Child” and “Loneliness,” where denser and more intense piano textures mirrored the depth of the text.
Janet Jennings’ “Jangling Memory” offered a more colloquial voicing, injecting a sense of immediacy and relatability. Nigel Keay’s “Voices of the Air” showcased chromatic chord changes and shifting tonal centers, creating a contemporary and intriguing accompaniment that sometimes danced on the periphery of the vocal line.
Michael Norris, through his choice of effective repetitive broken arpeggio textures, provided a captivating backdrop for “In the Rangitaiki Valley.” A standout piece was “Covering Wings” by Ben Fernandez, which embraced a more traditional, music theatre-style composition. David Hamilton’s “The Lonesome Child” and “A Day In Bed” seamlessly flowed with vocal support that mirrored the humor and whimsy of the text.
The recital also featured an array of other songs, including “The Secret” by Peter Adams, “Very Early Spring,” “The Gulf,” and “The Earth-Child In The Grass” by Andrew Perkins, “Across The Red Sky” by Thomas Goss, “Malade” by Yvette Audain, and “The World is Beautiful Tonight” by Kenneth Young.
The program concluded with “There is a Solemn Wind Tonight” and “Sea Song” by R. J. Carey, leaving the audience with a reflective and nostalgic note.
In this remarkable recital, Tessa Romano and Sherry Grant skillfully united the realms of literature and music, paying homage to Katherine Mansfield’s enduring legacy and delivering an unforgettable evening of artistry and emotion. Their performance not only celebrated the written word but also reminded us of the timeless beauty that resides within it.