Music / “Borderlands National Tour”, Van Diemen’s Band. At Llewellyn Hall, May 12. Reviewed by ROB KENNEDY.
DESCRIBED as Australia’s baroque supergroup, Van Diemen’s Band is made up of early music specialists who create a sound so rich and authentic, it is like being transported to the Elizabethan era.
In a Musica Viva presentation, for just their second concert in Canberra, Van Diemen’s Band is made up of Julia Fredersdorff, artistic director and violin; Simone Slattery, violin and recorder; Katie Yap, viola; Laura Vaughan, bass viol; Anton Baba, bass viol and cello, and Donald Nicolson, harpsichord.
The band presented a program that explored the historic borderlands of Europe. The concert began with something this reviewer had never heard before. The welcome to country had a musical accompaniment, and it was serene.
Their delicious sound quality was immediate from the opening note. The expressive first piece, Dietrich Becker’s “Sonata no. 5 in F Major”, crossed multiple tempos and forms, which set the tone for the concert.
“The Borderlands Suite” followed. Assembled by Fredersdorff, it comprised five works that crossed much musical territory. The composers were Samuel Scheidt, “Paduan”; Jean de Sainte-Colombe, “Les Pleurs”; Samuel Scheidt, “Courant”, and Philipp Heinrich Erlebach, “Chaconne from Ouverture no. 2”.
With most of this music coming from the 17th century, the “Borderlands Suite” spoke of the effects of battles. The animated performance from some of the players resembled a minor battle between themselves, but a happy one. In the middle of the first work, Slattery put down her violin and picked up the recorder, and she was equally impressive on both.
This graceful music, with its sweet and at times fiery sounds, contains the perfect temperament for calming and exciting the human heart.
Tomaso Albinoni’s, “Sonata ii in C Major”, op. 2 no. 3 from sinfonia à 5 followed. In four movements, comprising two fugues and two slow movements, this balanced out the composition. The multiple lines of music in the fugue set up the tension, which was released in the slow movements. Superb music like this played so tenderly deserved generous applause, and it got it.
After the interval, Georg Muffat’s, “Sonata no. 1 in D Major” from Armonico Tributo. Due to his well-travelled life, Muffat was the obvious choice to be included in a concert that crossed borders.
With just six players, it might have been difficult to fill Llewellyn Hall with enough volume to accommodate the audience, but with the backing sound wall in place, their sweet playing reached right to the last row. The Muffat was a glorious work, evenly balanced and performed with eminent authority.
Icelandic composer María Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir, made her 2013 piece “Clockworking”, sound new and old at the same time. With a backing track, the lights on the players dimmed to match the meditative effect of the music. The combination of just one violin, viola, and gamba, with the backing track, created a warming blanket of ambient sound. What a gorgeous work from beginning to end.
While attributed to either Biber or Schmelzer, the “Sonata Jucunda”, is a delightful work no matter who wrote it. It was the liveliest piece of the night. It included many styles that even had glissandi on the harpsichord.
To finish, a world-premiere performance of “Spirals”, by the Australian composer and harpsichordist in the band, Donald Nicolson. Based on a repeating bass line, with a Ukrainian hymn running throughout, this mysterious and quite heavenly music included the old and the new. This transcending work and an encore of a “Serenade”, by Biber, perfectly rounded off this concert of many sounds, colours and places.
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