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Review: Lior with Paul Grabowsky at The Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre

By Lisa Lanzi

Adelaide is not my hometown but I am fiercely proud of the joint.  It is fantastic to observe the populace braving the very low temperatures to immerse themselves in our famous CabFest performances. 

This performance featuring Lior with Paul Grabowsky is an Adelaide premiere.  Full house, bare Dunstan Playhouse stage with grand piano, stand microphone, lonely guitar on its stand and small table with water bottle (lose the plastic maybe) and glass of vino (very relaxed, very cabaret).  OK, there was a smattering of sequins in broad stripes on the back drop - of course.  The pair had previously been at the Brisbane Powerhouse in 2018 and Lior has performed often in Adelaide, including for the Cabaret Festival. 

Mr Grabowsky, founder of the Australian Art Orchestra and with a long, distinguished résumé, opened performing his own composition for solo piano October.  This work was transporting to say the least and it certainly featured the brilliance of the performer, both his compositional technique and nuanced playing.  An eminent jazz pianist with over 26 recordings to his name, Mr Grabowsky is regarded as one of Australia's foremost screen and theatre composers with credits for over 17 film and 13 television scores including Human Touch. Innocence and The Jungle Book 2.  Works for stage include the opera Love in the Age of Therapy and the multimedia production The Theft of Sita

Lior Attar, better known simply as Lior is an Israeli-Australian singer-songwriter based in Melbourne.  In 2005 he released his first independent album, Autumn Flow, which won a number of ARIA Awards.  Several albums and collaborations further on, Lior described this show as a wonderful partnership with Paul Grabowsky, a way to adapt and re-interpret his songs, taking them to a whole new place.  Clearly the two men share a mutual respect and admiration and there was an almost meditative aspect to the performance along with some gentle humour.

Lior wove storytelling amongst the songs to illustrate the inspiration behind them.  His lyrics are poetic with the ability to paint us a picture from his memories and imagination.  The music he composes is rich and at times imbued with influences from his Israeli heritage.  He joked that the way to be shunned by a circle of singer-songwriters is to pen a song about being happy.  Days to Remember was written when he was in just that contented state and had a slight Bublé feel to it.

The songs are deeply personal and rich with Lior’s own experiences and relationships.  Daniel is taken from letters and notes from a high school friend and reminisces about “that half smile” he recalled.  Another, Bedouin Song, is an homage to the southern Israeli landscape where the gypsies gather.  Lior’s vocal patterns and melody reflect a Middle Eastern sound while the spare and delicate piano accompaniment by Grabowski made this song even more poignant.

Once again the Adelaide Festival Centre technical support is perfection. In such a pared back performance in a large space, every vocal ornament and modulation, every piano note, and Lior’s excellent diction was clear and crisp.  The lighting too was subtle and welcoming and cast a harmonious glow over the stage.

Lior admitted that he felt a little out in the open without his guitar to “give him something else to do with his hands” but the simplicity of one person at a solo microphone in the middle of the stage is striking.  He mentioned that at the start of their collaboration both men had assumed it would include both instruments.  It became clear that only the piano was needed.  This perceived vulnerability brought a further depth to the songs and a focus on and clarity to meaningful lyrics. 

My Grandfather has a powerful a cappella start telling of Lior’s own grandfather who had been a sniper in the Red Army and how much he kept back from his family.  This was the song that Lior did perform solo with his guitar.  He told how special the song was and that he connects it with Adelaide as it was here that he first dared perform it as he wasn’t sure how it would be received.

The unassuming honesty Lior brings to his songs is also apparent in the way he addressed the audience, breaking down that barrier between us and him as much as was possible from stage.  Although, this is still a concert within a Cabaret Festival, albeit a very creative one.

It was a pleasure to experience Paul Grabowsky’s exquisite piano playing alongside Lior’s heavenly voice.  This is a voice we have always known was beautiful but separating it from the studio sound and away from the accompanying guitar, it is clearly exceptional.  I hope that an album might be forthcoming from this partnership, or at least further performances in time.

Image Supplied

All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.


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