Review / An enthusiastic burst of Catalonian creativity

Music / “Catalan Baroque”, The Sydney Consort. At Wesley Music Centre, March 18. Reviewed by ROB KENNEDY.

Photos by PETER HISLOP

MANY regions of the world have a distinctive musical flavour; none more so than Catalonia and Catalan baroque music with its Moorish influence stands out as the music of passion.

Juan Arañés (died c. 1649) wrote the opening piece titled “Un sarao de la chacona”. The chaconne is a dance piece in triple time, and this bright and lively work got the concert off to a flying start.

Performing on guitar was Rodrigo Santibanez; Hans-Dieter Michatz, recorders; Stan W Kornel, baroque violin and viola d’amore and on harpsichord Monika Kornel.

“Song of the Birds” is a traditional Catalonian Christmas song and lullaby. Its serious and retrospective nature fitted well with the mellow tone of the recorder that led the way through this angelic and joyful work.

Most of the pieces in this concert are rarely played, and the Sydney Consort do an excellent job of seeking out and performing music like this, and that always makes its shows a unique treat. The anonymous 16th-century folk song “Pan de miglio caldo caldo” is one of these seldom-heard treats. It had all the hallmarks of a folk tune; it was earthy, about simple but well-connected things such as food and it was bright and playful.

Joan Cererols (1618-1680) who was a Catalan musician and Benedictine monk, wrote “Serafin”, which is about the Star of Bethlehem. The sound of the guitar with the harpsichord can clash a little, but with the recorder and the viola d’amore accompanying, the blend was harmonious. Led by the guitar, the tune flowed nicely between instruments and spoke of another time in a piece that was well arranged and atmospheric.

The brothers Jose and Joan Baptista Pla left hundreds of manuscripts, and this “Trio Sonata in D minor” for harpsichord, recorder and violin began on a sustained high note that made it stand out. In fact, the whole piece was showy and contained many interesting and unusual techniques for the recorder, which Michatz handled well, as he does everything.

There was a slight change in the program when they decided to play two pieces by Francisco Guerau (1649-1772). The first for harpsichord began with a flowing tune that was juxtaposed with several contrapuntal sections that used the whole keyboard, and it showed just how good Monika Kornel is at her instrument. “Canarios”, a song about canaries, had a gorgeous flowing melody for the guitar. While concentrating on the score, Santibanez never faulted on his guitar and he almost never looks at the position of his hands while producing a subtle and graceful sound.

Jumping to a bright start on the harpsichord, for the last piece, the “Fandango” by Padre Antonio Soler (1729-1783) created a real stir. This piece had it all. Its unique melody and impressive arrangement had heads nodding and feet tapping, it was infectious. It was so compelling that the audience demanded an encore and they got one; it was another burst of Catalonian creativity played with a vibrant enthusiasm.

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