Salut! Baroque @ Sydney Conservatorium’s Verbrugghen Hall
Dictionary meanings of a ‘cosmopolitan’ are diverse. Amongst some interesting ones are: ‘someone who has experience of many different parts of the world’, ‘having a worldwide scope or outlook : not limited or narrow’, ‘free from local, provincial, or national ideas, prejudices, or attachments’.
These meanings are all nicely relevant to the chosen composers in this concert programme. The last definition crystallizes the challenge in Baroque Europe with regards to the three competing local musical styles, namely the French, Italian and German.
As detailed in cellist and Co-Artistic Director Tim Blomfield’s excellent and detailed programme notes, nationalism was strong in Baroque times. Despite this, composers were willing to experience and learn different musical styles, especially when working abroad. The later fluid German style was not regarded highly by the Italians at first, who originally labelled it ‘un gusto barbaro‘.
Composers from all three backgrounds did eventually have first-hand contact with each style through travel, study and working in countries various. They incorporated aspects of each major style into their works, wrote specifically in the style or created musical imagery to describe different nationalities. The ‘barbaric’ German style soon became a successful melange of all three musical styles, presenting each flavour in their works in labelled turn or to serve expression.
This concert beautifully demonstrated such a formative and developing process. This concert entertained from beginning to end with a colourful and exuberant programme of twelve works. These were from composers representing each of the three major backgrounds and also the English expat violinist Henry Eccles, who ended up in Paris. Most of the featured composers had travelled and worked abroad in true cosmopolitan style, enhancing their writing through submersion in other cultures, sounds and trends.
Salut! Baroque members launched themselves with impressive verve into the pastiche of styles and the works from composers who picked up new techniques from their European neighbours. The ensemble delighted the supportive fan base assembled always. The programme included selections from stage music, instrumental works in a national style or tradition as well as from music whose titles or sections were labelled with the names of nationalities.
This colourful sequence of music indicated in a no-holds-barred fashion what the stereotypes of different cultures was at the time. Using percussion and spot-on gesturing for all programmatic depictions, works such as Telemann’s Ouverture in B flat major ‘Les Nations’ leapt off the stage. Sections of caricature relating to Turks, Russians, Swiss and Portugese peoples were boldly painted by the Salut! Baroque members in this vivid work.
Many of the major composers were featured in this cosmopolitan, style-bending fest. J S Bach’ s Sinfonia from an early cantata displayed a solid use of French Overture style. An excerpt from Couperin’s Les Nations of 1726 saw the ensemble deliver a portrait of Spain through this French composer’s eyes.
Shifts in line-up from the ten musicians on stage were swift and added even more variety to this musical travelogue-commentary on culture.
The delivery of the Italian Michele Mascitti’s Sonata in A minor Op 1 No 8 for strings alone was as exciting as it was intimate. The real thrill in this concert however came with the full ensemble of strings, recorders, percussion and harpsichord tackling the music intended for the stage, or which worked hard to depict cultural, emotional or dramatic themes.
The concert began with Rameau’s looking to Egypt and Persia for his opera Zaroastre, from which we heard the Ouverture movement. Rameau’s compatriot Lully’s attempt to invoke all things Turkish in the opera Le Bourgois Gentilhomme, in particular a Turkish march, was strikingly performed with fitting flavour by the ensemble.
From the well-travelled composer Boccherini, the ensemble presented his vivid and unique vignette of the Spanish street at night. This romp from 1780 was performed in all its colouring, evocative directness and even animated, voiced street cries from violinist John Ma.
Non-operatic but vividly programmatic meditations on night horrors were included on the programme, composed by the Austrian Johann Fux. The group later easily turned to the different voice of popular German-born expat Georg Muffat. His Suite No 2 in G minor was soberingly, sensitively played. It was immediately followed by the well contrasted voice of English expat to France, violinist Henry Eccles.
Members of Salut! Baroque played this work with a distinctly different voice as Eccles’ ‘Largo’ and ‘Corente’ movements from his Sonata in G minor indicated Italian stylistic influences and even borrowings from a cosmopolitan potpurri of composers old and new.
This well devised programme presented with precision and passion bright postcards from right across Baroque Europe. Contrasting music from the edge of several key points in music history was heard and obviously loved by the audience. It was at all times a thrilling journey to take with Salut! Baroque.
Read the review on Sydney Arts Guide.