Lovely review of Sunday’s ‘Medicinal Music’ concert from classikON – ‘A spoonful of Baroque on a Sunday afternoon’ by Simon Hirtzel. ‘The ensemble created a sense of camaraderie and joy between players with every musician displaying superb playing and control.’

Review: Salut! A spoonful of Baroque on a Sunday afternoon

by Simon Hirtzel | Nov 21, 2022 | Ambassador thoughts, Chamber Groups

Salut! Baroque | Medicinal Music
Sunday 20 November, Sydney Conservatorium of Music

Reflecting on the uncertainty and chaos of the last two years, where the concept of time warped and twisted until it became elastic and unpredictable, it was reassuring — despite yet another Covid wave and a fully masked audience — to step into the warm afternoon light of the Verbrugghen Hall at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music for Medicinal Music by Salut! Baroque.

Entering the hall, the audience was greeted by the crisp, sleek lines of the harpsichord, finished in teal and cream with gold highlights: a visual cue of the step back in time we were about to take.

The structured order of Baroque music gives a sense of certainty, reassurance and control, which is welcome at any time, particularly so now.

While surgeons of the 17th and 18th Century would have required a strong working knowledge of human anatomy, the composers and musicians may have drawn on an innate understanding of the human psyche, letting emotions speak through their music.

The program featured pieces that related to the concert’s Medicinal theme (Zelenka, Marais, Charpentier) along with those reflecting the lives and often untimely deaths of some of the composers (Zipoli, Schmelzer, Erskine).

Zelenka’s Hipocondrie à 7 concertanti musically illustrated the “malady” that “makes one strange and morose”. A warm dialogue led to a reassuring prognosis in the bright, inventive Allegro, string players swaying along.

Thoughtful phrasing and a well-balanced tone carried the Erskine Quartet in C minor which finished on a note of hope and optimism.

The hypnotic, meditative All’ Elevazione from Zipoli’s Sonate d’Intavolatura Op. 1 highlighted Jane Downer’s skill on the Baroque oboe, with lovely phrasing and precise, elegant trills.

The jaunty opening of Sonata ad Tabulam by Schmelzer was complemented by the bird-like sound of the recorders in the Adagio, leading into an Allegro movement that carried enough joy to cheer any ailing patient.

In Le Tableau de l’Opération de la Taille by Marin Marais, recorder player Hans-Dieter Michatz put his instrument aside to deliver an entertainingly impassioned narration, in French, emphasising the fearsome ordeal of an 18th Century bladder-stone extraction. Michatz expressed the concept of pain perfectly in the line “Icy l’on perd quasi la voix” (the patient practically loses his voice), drawing appreciative chuckles from the audience. The piece also gave Karina Schmitz the spotlight to showcase the stunning Baroque viola.

Sinfonia in E minor by Johan Helmich Roman opened with a flurry of notes; the strings pausing to fine-tune their well-loved Baroque instruments between movements. The Allegro raced to a finish that highlighted the playful recorders, expressed by the talented Sally Melhuish and Michatz. The Baroque violins sung superbly under the control of Rachael Beesley and Julia Russoniello.

Through all pieces, the harpsichord provided the framework and backing through the skilful control of Monika Kornel, who demonstrated a deft touch in the divine Aria from Goldberg Variations by JS Bach. Kornel maintained impressive control of the phrasing and tempo as the piece wound and circled, like a bandage unwrapping.

For Suite from Le malade imaginaire by Charpentier, the day’s full ensemble of nine took the stage. The impressive-looking Theorbo/Lute played by Simon Martyn-Ellis was as beautiful to watch as it was to listen to, in the moments where its sound pushed through.

The concert closed with Jane Downer sharing more of the beauty and charm of the Baroque oboe, in Concerto in D minor for oboe Op. 9 by Albinoni. After the allegro movement’s perfectly synchronised close, the adagio saw the strings resonating at a lower register before being joined by the plaintive oboe with its mesmerising melody. Tim Blomfield showed off the beauty of the superb-sounding Bass violin (not a cello, despite its appearance). The strident elegance of the allegro movement drew appreciative applause.

The ensemble created a sense of camaraderie and joy between players with every musician displaying superb playing and control.

The ancient Greeks believed human health was centred around the four humours which needed to be in balance for good health. With all our humours balanced at the conclusion of the concert, it seemed that the programme was as satisfying for the musicians to play as it was for the audience to hear.

With a series of 2023 Friday night concerts in Canberra and Sunday afternoon concerts in Sydney, Salut! Baroque offers a thoughtfully curated, thoroughly rewarding journey through the world of Baroque music.