It is a rare occurrence for an audience to be treated to the authentic sound of Baroque music. This valuable opportunity was offered to those who attended the debut performance of the Early Music Ensemble of St George’s College, on Sunday July 3rd. The warm spotlights in the Dining Hall zeroed in on the four musicians who in turn drew the audience into an intimate semicircular formation, welcoming everyone into a sublime Baroque experience.
Before launching into the evening’s programme, the members of the ensemble were welcomed by the Director of Music, Michael Grebla, and presented to the College’s Warden, Ian Hardy. The ensemble is formed by final year university students and recent graduates, Eliza McCracken (violin), Sarah Papadopoulos (violin), Krista Low (violoncello) and Kiseok Kim (harpsichord). All are recognised and well respected amongst Perth’s music community. The musicians performed on authentic Baroque instruments equipped with gut strings and a Baroque bow. The violins were played minus a shoulder rest and the cello without a spike. These modifications to the modern instruments presented a more direct, less resonant sound. Kiseok performed on a harpsichord donated to the College in memory of Jillian Belbin.
The College’s Senior Music Fellow and the mentor of the ensemble, Paul Wright, spoke briefly about the vision of the Early Music Ensemble and left the stage to allow the first piece, Aria Sopra – La Bergamasca by Marco Uccellini to pierce the anticipatory silence. Performed with verve, the musicianship was exciting and vibrant, featuring characterful violin exchanges and robust continuo stability. The consistent continuo foundation provided a solid platform for melodies and counter-melodies to dart between the violins, coupled with many a cheeky grin.
Similar to the architecture and elegant craftsmanship associated with the era, every piece of Baroque music is delicately crafted. Baroque music is an effective tool of communication. Embedded into each work is an affect, or series of affects, which gives insight to the composer’s life and mind. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the performer to access and elicit these emotions in their performance. Each member of the ensemble adhered to this with extreme sensitivity, particularly in the performance of Nicola Matteis’s Aria Amorosa.
The audience was treated to group performances as well as a feature performance delivered by each member of the ensemble. The traditional accompanying instrument was brought to life in Antonio Vivaldi’s Cello Sonata in F Major Op 14, performed by Krista, who captivatingly explored the varying colours and melodies of the violoncello. Preluded with an insightful explanation of the different characteristics of both Italian and French Baroque music, Eliza’s performance of Michele Mascitti’s Psiché Divertissiment Op 5 No. 12 was both vivacious and introspective. Jacques Aubert’s Violin Sonata No. 6 Book II was performed by Sarah with precision and flair. Aubert’s music brings the zest of Italian violin virtuosity into the French realm, which Sarah demonstrated in her performance. The presence of the harpsichord can often go awry in Baroque music due to the mechanics of its sound production. The opportunity to listen to Kiseok perform solo was therefore appreciated, especially on such a fine instrument. Performing excerpts from Louis Couperin’s Suite in D Major, Kiseok thoughtfully highlighted elements of French Baroque music in an appropriate noble and refined performance.
Joining the members onstage, Paul Wright graced listeners with his soulful performance of J.S. Bach’s Air in D. How lucky the ensembles of St George’s are to have a musician of his calibre at the helm! Drawing the evening to a close was one final piece by Vivaldi, the much appreciated La Folia. The vigour in the performance of this piece, having nineteen variations, took listeners on a journey through a host of emotions, dances and embellishments.
The evening’s proceedings flowed smoothly, regardless of the intruding bitter winter chill. The charismatic Michael Grebla presided over the evening’s event with pride and satisfaction. Personally, I was captivated throughout the evening’s performance – from beginning to end. As I watched my friends perform historically informed Baroque music at such a high standard, I realised and appreciated that the resurgence of early music in Perth is in safe hands and bound to flourish.
Written by Giovanni Vinci