SALUT! Baroque has been performing music of the baroque for more than 23 years using what is currently termed “historically informed” performance practise.
The ensemble plays on instruments of the period (or modern copies) and researches performance and playing styles to present the music as it might have sounded 250 or more years ago. This is the first concert of its 2019 series, with performances in Sydney and Canberra.
Each of the four concerts this year are thematically based, this one entitled “Melancholy & Mirth”. The printed program does little to explain the thinking or the selection of works behind this title. Where the reader might expect some background notes on the 11 disparate works in the program, all that is offered is a rambling dissertation on bodily humours.
The “mirth” is obvious in Leopold Mozart’s well-known “Toy Symphony” (more properly entitled “Cassation in G major for Orchestra and Toys”) and the “melancholy” equally to be heard in Simon Fraser’s “Caledonia’s Wail for Niel Gow”.
Where arrangements of arias from WA Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” for string quartet and czakan fit into this emotional landscape is less recognisable. The czakan is an end-blown flute briefly popular in early 19th century Vienna and tunefully played by Hans-Dieter Michatz.
What was missing in this performance was any sense that the players were enjoying themselves. When a group of musicians is working well together they are communicating through eye contact, encouraging and lifting the performance. Little of that seemed to be happening and there was a raggedness at time which suggested perhaps not enough rehearsal time for the music to sit comfortably. At times the pitch was variable and the strings especially struggled to keep in tune.
Overall this was a disappointing concert with a fragmented program lacking highlights, and an ensemble lacking engagement, both with the music and the audience. Hopefully this is but a minor blip after a long and notable performance career.