Music / “The Priest, The Intellect, The Eccentric & The Pirate”, Phoenix Collective Baroque. At Wesley Uniting Church, November 12. Reviewed by IAN McLEAN
THIS cleverly titled concert was originally scheduled for performance in June, 2020, but was cancelled due to the covid situation. A similar fate befell the concert in August this year, so a great deal of resolve has been required to finally get the show on stage.
Without knowledge of that background, it may have seemed odd to program “Winter” from Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” for a mid-November, spring evening but, ironically, it was most apt as Canberra endured a nippy 13 degrees on a wet and gloomy, winter-like night.
Some initial intonation weaknesses added a little ice to the famous work of the Red Priest and balance wasn’t perfect with cello and violin overpowering the harpsichord. However, all soon settled and musical warmth filled the lovely Wesley Uniting Church with a dynamic and dramatic interpretation of “Winter”, highlighted by Dan Russell’s violin virtuosity during the third movement.
The Pirate was represented by “La Stella”, composed by Pandolfi Mealli, who, at the time, was apparently on the run having killed a famous castrato in a duel!
I’d not previously heard this work and found it delightfully peaceful and calming, not quite befitting the image of a swashbuckling pirate.
The Eccentric referred to Heinrich Biber, an outstanding violinist who lived in the mid to late 1600s. In his introduction, Russell pointed out links between his music and that of latter-day contemporaries, Paganini and Bartok.
The “Sonata in F” certainly presented an opportunity for Russell to display his excellent technique with a passionate and exciting performance, particularly the driving finale. He was ably supported by steady, consistent backing from James Porteous (harpsichord) and Clara Teniswood (cello).
JS Bach’s “Sonata in G Major” was well played with the trio now tightly knitted together, most noticeably in the bright and lively first movement. The harpsichord lacked some clarity in rhythm definition in its otherwise crisp solo movement and the cello was, as always during the evening, concise and clean in providing solid backing.
The concert was brought to a satisfying conclusion with the Corelli “La Folia”, 22 intricate and demanding short variations on a 50-year-old Swedish folk song.
Just one gripe: despite access to social media, and the most interesting and informative verbal introductions to the musical works, a printed program is still considered an essential element of concert attendance. Mealli and Biber are not well known composers and some detail of their lives and place in musical history was needed to enhance the understanding and appreciation of listeners. Similarly, biographical details about the performers and their connection to the group would have created a necessary additional link between performers and audience.
Phoenix Collective continues to present its originally planned 2021 entire season in a compressed end-of-year time frame by performing “The Juliet Letters” in a fortnight, again at the Wesley Music Centre. For well played and enjoyable music a bit out of the box, attendance is highly recommended.
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