The particular panache of Salut! Baroque’s ‘Genius’

ClassikOn review by Claudia Jelic | Feb 19, 2024 | Ambassador thoughts, Chamber Groups

Salut! Baroque | The Genius, February 18, 2024, Verbrugghen Hall, Sydney


Anna Fraser, soprano
Sally Walker, baroque flute
Sally Melhuish and Alana Blackburn, recorders
Meg Cohen and Sarah Papadopoulos, baroque violins
Suzie Kim, baroque viola
Tim Blomfield, bass violin
Simon Martyn-Ellis, theorbo/baroque guitar
Chad Kelly, harpsichord (who impressively stepped in at short notice for Monica Kornel)

Salut! Baroque’s ‘The Genius’ concert emanated vitality. Although filled with music from over 200 years ago, once again I was struck by the relevance of these early works. Bringing lesser-known composers to light beside one as revered as J.S Bach, the musicians of Salut! Baroque gave these works new life.

The title ‘The Genius’ is indelibly a reference to Johann Sebastian Bach. Yet deliberately, only two of Bach’s compositions were included in the program. Instead, this concert brought to the fore a varied constellation of 17th and 18th century works by contemporaries of Bach whose music he was influenced by, and admired. Among them included Georg Philip Telemann and Christoph Graupner, both Bach’s rivals for the position of Thomaskantor in Leipzig, and others such as Reincken, Buxtehude, Keiser, and Hurlebusch. Although Bach’s musical presence may well have been strongly felt throughout this concert, it is clear that these composers deserve greater recognition in their own right. This carefully crafted program, with seamless changes in instrumentation for each successive work, resulted every time in a new sound world, and affirmed the brilliance and stylistic ingenuity that each composer brought to the (musical) table.

While every work should be mentioned individually, a few highlights come to mind. Johann Christian Bach’s In this Shady Blest Retreat, was executed by Anna Fraser with considerable flair and personality. Her playful dialogues with the violins, flute and recorder were superbly executed and contributed to the cohesive and theatrical performance of this work.

Monteverdi’s madrigal Lamento della Ninfa was notable for its intimacy. Simon Martyn-Ellis’ sensitive yet impassioned ground bass on the theorbo, coupled with the trio of flute and recorders (a wonderful instrumental alternative to the traditional trio of male voices), beautifully supported Anna Fraser’s exquisite rendition of this heart-wrenching lament. In the grand Verbrugghen Hall, these five musicians delicately drew the focus inwards, their sound nevertheless permeating every inch of the space.

The Villanella of Graupner’s Ouverture-Suite in D major was played with particular panache, and one could sense the musicians’ enjoyment and good humour in the playful and daring dynamics. The applause certainly affirmed that the audience equally enjoyed listening to it.

Sally Walker led the ensemble for the final work of the program, J. S. Bach’s Ouverture-Badinerie from Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B Minor. Her connection with every musician was a joy to watch. The swift tempo and energetic playing from all made for an exciting and impressive end to the program.

A number of these compositions allude to gardens or nature in some way; Johann Christian Bach’s In this Shady Blest Retreat, written for the open air concerts at Vauxhall Gardens in London; Reincken’s Hortus Musicus (‘Garden of Music’), in which one might imagine wandering through a diverse sonorous garden of Adagios and Gigues; and Eurilla in Handel’s Occhi belli, voi sol siete, who places a garland of flowers on the sleeping Mirtillo. There is a sense of renewal and regrowth as some of this perhaps unfamiliar music is brought to our senses. This concert gave us a glimpse of how the rich tapestry of sound of Bach’s contemporaries might have contributed to his genius.