New ensemble brings life to rare music

Music / “Breathtaking”. Van Diemen’s Band. At Wesley Uniting Church, March 17. Reviewed by Graham McDonald

Cornetto player Bruce Dickey and Czech soprano Hana Blazikova.

VAN Diemen’s Band is a newish ensemble from Tasmania specialising in music of the baroque.

Led by violinist, Julia Fredersdorff the group for this tour is violinist Lucinda Moon, Laura Vaughn playing viola da gamba, harpsichordist Donald Nicolson and Nick Pollock on theorbo, a two meter long arch-lute.

They were joined by the “Breathtaking” element, Czech soprano Hana Blazikova and cornetto player Bruce Dickey. The cornetto is a wooden horn, around the same size as a clarinet, slightly curved with finger holes (as on a recorder) and a trumpet-style mouthpiece. They were popular in the renaissance and the early baroque, but had almost entirely disappeared by the end of the 17th century. It is only in the last few decades that there has been a resurgence of interest in these instruments as part of the “historically informed performance” movement. Bruce Dickey has been at the forefront of this.

This concert was, with one exception, comprised of 17th century Italian sacred music, mostly vocal music with some instrumental pieces. The cornetto has a similar range and tonal quality as a soprano voice or a violin so the ensemble were able to “mix and match” voice, violins and cornetto as the music required.

The performance was superb, the two violinists and three continuo players providing a solid and tight foundation for the pyrotechnics of Blazikova and Hickey.

The trio of harpsichord, viola da gamba and theorbo provided a lush bed of sound, the differing tonal qualities all working together.

Soprano Hana Blazikova has full control over the range of baroque vocal ornamentation with delightful pitch and phrasing, while Bruce Dickey makes what I suspect is a very difficult instrument to master seem effortless.

The program included a contemporary work, a setting in Byzantine Greek of a biblical text by Greek composer Calliope Tsoupaki. It was scored for soprano, cornetto and viola da gamba and fitted in remarkably well with the rest of the program. There were a few flattened intervals which hinted at its eastern origins, but beautifully played and presented

This is music rarely performed, but in the hands of such skilled musicians comes alive. Three of the players are returning to Canberra as Latitude 37, with a program of music by Corelli, next month and we can only hope that the larger Van Diemen’s Band makes a return soon as well.

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