Sydney Arts Guide | Review | The Historian 230624

Read the reviewed by Paul Nolan, Sydney Arts Guide. 

In recent history of live music performance, musicians and artistic directors at concert event have endeared themselves to the crowd with commentary, explanation of interpretation and preparation and the occasional quip or contoversial tale. This verbal enhancement of tales previously reserved for the programme notes is here to stay in the performance practice as the narration from expert players or directors is both a break from the playing, a promotion of the onstage group and a lively human voice trope.

Salut! Baroque Artistic Directors Sally Melhuish and Tim Blomfield have in this concert instalment enhanced the flow and Tim’s always excellent, detailed programmed story by giving the onstage commentary to actor Duncan Driver. This master stroke saw the actor in full character and appropriate accent, decked out in period costume and conversing between pastiche items as a very believable music historian of the day.

Dr Charles Burney was quite the character in Baroque times. His music training, experience and broad travel made his memoirs and comment both rich and relevant. The re-enactments and readings for ‘The Historian’ were full of name-dropping, wicked opinions. informed analysis, unfiltered anecdotes as well as outright gossip about composers, performances, personalities and perfect practice session scandals.

As well as entertaining the crowd, this element of the concert brought the music to life, educated direct from the stage through colourful comment and added humor plus refined character acting to the audience’s experience. The reaction was instant evidence of this concept’s success and the momentum as well as the vibe of the event benefitted greatly from the blend of musical and dramatic arts.

The fine flow and contrasts within any Salut! Baroque event is a successful recipe, now something of the stuff of legend after 29 years of performance. Carefully chosen works, usually up to a dozen, from several global centres of musical development fill the Salut! Baroque concerts, from superstar, household names to quite obscure or never before heard composers.

Dr Charles Burney, that musician who studied organ, violin and cello and who always seemed to be in the right place at the right time to gain morsels of info about composers, enlighten Baroque readers with music history and regale them (and us through Duncan Driver’s vibrant recreation) with morceaux of attitude, accurate detail or inimitable exposure to key musical issues and events.

This was the well-trained musician who aimed to catapult himself out of the servitude of a routine musical post and enter the upper classes through detailed writing. This was the Baroque musician on a mission who fraternised with Captain James Cook and Sir Jopseph Banks, who watched rehearsals for the Messiah premiere, who was close to CPE Bach, knew of the dynamics within Haydn’s orchestras and was a fan of the emerging instrumental and stage music talent of Purcell from England that would compete with the European influences.

It was quite impresssive that the brief, colourful and well selected anecdotes before works from well-known and lesser known composers alike could indicate so much about the music scene, national flavour or reputation of composers and musicians and creators of music.

Once each work began from the musicians though, the typical run sheet of bold, beautiful, big performance and bizarre on offer for this Salut! Baroque concert spoke volumes and demonstrated the various styles around at that stage of history.

Following a controversial description of Joseph-Nicolas-Pancrace Royer’s writing, we were treated to a well-layered, beautifully-paced, rhythmically vibrant and character-filled harpsichord solo from this composer, perhaps unheard before for many.

Monika Kornel stepped into the limelight from her regular continuo ranks to give quite a thrilling performance of Royer’s La Marche des Scythes (1746). The first two works on the programme were a dazzling way to begin. Johann David Heinchen’s ‘Vivace’ from the Concerto in G major SeiH 214 (1730) was perfect tutti fare with which to enliven the instrumental part of this concert.

Other big performance elements of ‘The Historians’were ensemble concerto, concerto grosso and symphonic works to popular formulae for groups various by the big names of Vivaldi, Handel, Telemann, Haydn. Music a little bizarre for this concert came in a performance of Johann Fux’s ‘Turcaria’ then ‘Janitschara’ from his Sinfonia a3 in C major K 331.

The beautiful and impressively pastoral with this concert’s strong recorder contingent came with memorable moments in Purcell’s ‘A Bird’s Prelude & Chaconne’ from the formidable Fairy Queen Z.629 (1692). More bold and pastoral programmatic music reached us throught the four-movement work, The Enchanted Forest H.150 (1754).

And to match the enthusiasm of Dr Burney for the progressive, impressive in music and life, we were able to sample in this, once more an enjoyable chameleon romp of a concert, some expressive wrangling of the Trio Sonata model in a bold work, with equally bold performance merit from CPE Bach, a trailblazer much praised by Burney.

Once more Salut! Baroque offered up a diverse, detailed and definitive programme to suit their chosen concept and theme. With an added extramusical layer so well performed. A filming of this concert’s music plus its flashy music-historian-of-the-moment commentary would certainly go down in Salut! Baroque’s long history as an enduring treat.

Salut! Baroque return with their final concert in the 2024 Musical Personalities series, ‘The Networker’. on Sunday 13 October.