visual art / “Black Mist Burnt Country”. At the National Museum of Australia – until 18 November. Reviewed by JOHN LANDT
The unity and style that Block Sounds creates make them a standout group not only in baroque music, but also right up to contemporary music.
On recorders, Robyn Mellor who also directs was joined by the Leske sisters, Elana and Shae, Olivia Gossip, with Peter Young, harpsichord and Rachel Walker on viola da gamba as the continuo.
Beginning with the “Sonata per 3 flauti dolci” by Alessandro Scarlatti, this bright three-movement piece with harpsichord filled the George Browning House in the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture with a voluminous sonority.
When Walker on viola da gamba joined the recorder players and Young on harpsichord for Telemann’s “Deuxième Suite”, their room-filling sound added not only to the volume level but also to the richness and the continuity of the group.
Telemann was a master recorder music composer, and in this five-movement suite that ranged from the joyful, to plaintive to dance-like tunes, it created many musically diverse subjects.
Block Sounds’ professional unity was on show in the Johann Melchior Molter “Concerto 11”. The four alto recorders had many of the same lines to play together, and for wind players, this can be problematic considering the varying intonation of the instruments, breathing techniques and the placement of the players. Achieving a harmonious sound can be difficult for the players and awkward for audience members, but there were no issues in this sprightly concerto or for any other work they played on the day.
British baroque composer Matthew Locke (1621-1677) has a different tonality and structure to his music than the German and Italian composers around the same time. The Leske sisters on tenor and alto recorders and the continuo performed the “Suite 3” by Locke. That difference between this British composer and his contemporaries was heard in the viola da gamba, which had more prominent lines and melodies throughout this work. This was not just another figured bass line that most bass instruments get in baroque music, this music sang, and Walker played it with a refined clarity.
Telemann again, his “Trio in F Major”. The lucidity in Telemann’s writing came through unencumbered with just Mellor on alto recorder and continuo. The Mesto “sad” movement had the viola da gamba and recorder play together without harpsichord for moments and the sound was not just sorrowful but joyous.
The “B flat Trio Sonata” for two recorders by JS Bach was typical Bach; long, complex and character-filled.
For the “Concerto V in E minor” by German composer Johann Christian Schickhardt (c. 1682-1762), saw the full ensemble back on stage. This four-movement concerto, beginning with an allegro, not totally common at the time, again had some wonderful united playing to get through, and it was all good, actually, it was better than good. It was stimulating and soothing as was the whole concert.