Review / Sad baroque made beautiful

Music / “The Greatest Sorrow”, Adhoc Baroque. At St Paul’s Church, Manuka. March 11. Reviewed by ROB KENNEDY

“The Greatest Sorrow”, Adhoc Baroque.

BAROQUE music’s capacity to make any situation tranquil is like no other.

Adhoc Baroque is a Canberra-based ensemble performing well and lesser-known music from the baroque repertoire, and in this performance the players were, Greta Claringbould, soprano; Maartje Sevenster, mezzo-soprano; Lauren Davis and Michelle Higgs, violins; Rachael Walker, viola da gamba; Clara Teniswood on cello with Peter Young playing the organ and directing.

Sevenster, who is also an astrophysicist among other things, opened the concert by singing the “Crucifixion and Death of our Saviour Jesus Christ” by Alessandro Stradella. Its gentle nature fitted perfectly with a slow, warm, Sunday afternoon. Sevenster blended effortlessly with the tone of the instruments and her voice stood out when it needed to in a well-controlled and pleasing performance.

“I Saw You Weeping Bitterly at Jesus’ Feet”, by Georg Philipp Telemann, sung by Greta Claringbould, is a cantata for the third Sunday before Lent, which is one in a set of 72. The calming charm of this music and with Claringbould’s voice and her particularly good German pronunciation proved this to be music and a performance of substance.
Dieterich Buxtehude’s “My Soul, Will You Rest”, began on an upbeat note. Its quick tempo and lively character, combined with soprano and mezzo-soprano voices to create a musical similarity of many unique vocal and instrumental moments.

After the interval, the “Stabat mater” by Alessandro Scarlatti, is a musical transcription of a poem ascribed to Jacopone da Todi (1230-1306). Many composers have set the Stabat mater to music over the years; it portrays the grief of a mother on the death of her child. It opens slowly, like it is breathing, but that does not set the tone for the whole piece.

The first five-minutes are even and poised, and then it begins to develop into a more complex piece. Throughout there are tricky flourishes and things you don’t expect, but the singing was truly glorious as the soprano and mezzo-soprano swapped between the stanzas of the poem, but when the two combined, the complementary voices made the music a special experience.

At times, you could hear one of the high string players was not up to the standard of the singers or the organist, and it was a bit of a challenge for the performers to adjust to the changing conditions as the sun came in from the windows and moved across their faces.

The 19 stanzas of this Stabat mater describe the grief that Mary goes through as she watches her son die on the cross. The music is full of lament and tragic expression, but the sound of the singers and the overall performance made this an enriching experience.

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