Review / Performers turn tradition on its head

Music / Unique Baroque. At Wesley Music Centre, April 7. Reviewed by CLINTON WHITE

Queanbeyan-based accordionist, Anton Wurzer, and NZ harpsichordist, Ariana Odermatt perform at the Wesley Music Centre. Photo by Peter Hislop

JS BACH and GF Handel were exact contemporaries; both were born in 1685. Handel lived new nine years longer than Bach, both composers dying in the 1750s. But it was not until 1822 that the piano accordion – or, to respect its German origin, akkordeon – was invented.

 So, neither composer ever would have contemplated either writing for the instrument or that their music would be played on it.

 But a chance meeting brought together  Queanbeyan-based accordionist, Anton Wurzer, and NZ harpsichordist, Ariana Odermatt. That’s when history changed.

In a program almost entirely of works by Bach and Handel, and except for three solos, these two artists turned tradition on its head.  Wurzer is no stranger to this; his solo CD album, “Primitus”, features music by Bach, as well as Mozart, who also died well before the akkordeon came on the scene. What was different in this program is the part played by the harpsichord, very well known, of course, to our protagonist composers.

 It certainly was a risk to bring the two instruments together, but one that worked exceptionally well. They combined beautifully. The harpsichord, under the accomplished and confident hands of Odermatt, gave great foundation to the akkordeon, which took on the roles of solo violins and flutes.

 Making the performance especially interesting and entertaining were the very many modernistic but subtle flourishes Wurzer added in his playing.  Not so subtle was the second movement from Handel’s “Sonata for Violin and Piano in A Major” HWV361.  It started off all fine and dandy, but, gradually, the akkordeon took on a very French flavour. As the harpsichord faded away to leave the path open for the akkordeon, Wurzer launched into a full-flight tango, complete with percussive tapping on the casing. The audience liked it. 

Wurzer threw in one of his own compositions – one of his two solos – the first movement from his “Sonata for Akkordeon in C Minor”.  Notwithstanding the piece being in a minor key, it was full of rhythm, life, exuberance and colour, Wurzer’s big hands dancing effortlessly and lightly across the keyboard and bassboard.

 The piano akkordeon has suffered greatly in its history from derisive comments and scorn.  But this concert proved the critics wrong. I reckon Bach and Handel would have liked it, too.


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