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Canberra Today 20°/23° | Tuesday, December 7, 2021 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

Outstanding concert of eclectic Australian music

Thoroughbass, Diana Weston and Shaun Ng. Photo Rob Kennedy

Music / “Big Skies”, Thoroughbass, Wesley Music Centre, Forrest, November 20. Reviewed by ROB KENNEDY

CELEBRATING the unique nature of Australia in music inspired by its landscapes, immigrants, and first peoples, Sydney early music group Thoroughbass performed an exciting and eclectic concert at Wesley Music Centre.

In an intimate experience, the performers in Thoroughbass were Shaun Ng on viola da gamba and Diana Weston, piano and harpsichord.

Beginning with “Six Greek Dances” by Phillip Bolliger, which were written for guitar, proved a delightful cross of styles and the fact that they were played on harpsichord and viola da gamba made them even more fascinating. The bold, bright, and highly rhythmic music, rich in Greek flavour, created a spellbinding experience.

Weston switched to piano for Anne Boyd’s “Bali Moods I”, originally composed for flute and piano. Written in a scale system associated with Indonesian music, this light-hearted contemporary sound filled with unique writing proved fascinating. Weston on piano provided the highly rhythmic sound of the gamelan, full of repetition and complex changes. Ng created a world of sound effects through the music and looked at ease with what sounded like tricky, but also beautiful music.

Inspired by the cloud paintings of John Constable, Diana Blom’s “Cloud Studies” for solo piano in three movements expressed aspects of moods that clouds can bring. Dissonance played a strong part in the first movement through cascading block chords that formed the sound of clouds. The second and third parts sat in similar territory. While different in style, the influence offered was extra-musical effects in pictures of sound that were superbly played.

It was back to harpsichord and gamba for “The Birch Tree” by Elena Kats-Chernin, which was commissioned by Weston. This bouncy work, with an eclectic and quirky nature, was expertly played by both.

Ann Carr-Boyd’s “Look at the Stars” is a suite of pieces for solo piano that reference a range of aspects related to the heavens. The 10 pieces played were all short and reflected their subjects like Mars, the Spiral Galaxy and a Quasar.

The construction of these pieces made them work well as a suite. Some tonal, some atonal and all played with a strong understanding of contemporary music. One even sounded like an Elton John rock ballad.

The viola da gamba’s evocative sound quality made the music of Peter Sculthorpe’s” The Song of the Tailitnama” come alive. Originally composed as a small ensemble work with soprano and a text of four verses in the Aranda language.

Few composers captured the essence of Australia in music like Sculthorpe did. The harpsichord played an attacking sharp sound, creating the effect of insects punctuating the air. Played with insightfully expressive colours, Ng brought the image of this vast land to mind.

This was an outstanding concert of eclectic Australian music, mostly from the late 20th century, played with a unique understanding of our contemporary sound. I can’t wait to see and hear Thoroughbass again, maybe with their complete line-up performing here in Canberra soon.

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