Elder Conservatorium Evening Concert Series – Baroque Beasts at Elder Hall, University of Adelaide
Dramatic, funny, and full of surprises.
Baroque Beasts And Battles could almost be the latest in the Harry Potter franchise; dramatic, funny, and full of surprises.
This was the final concert of the Adelaide Baroque Academy 2021. What an absolute joy from start to finish. The tutors and participants filled the stage of Elder Hall. Jointly led by Rachael Beesley and Ben Dollman, with ‘cellist, Daniel Yeadon, violone player, Rob Nairn, and harpsichordist, Neal Peres da Costa as continuo, they brought the Academy to a rousing climax.
In 1605, and with the second volume coming in 1615, Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (1547-1616) let loose on the world one of the most engaging literary heroes, Don Quixote de la Mancha, and his faithful sidekick, Sancho Panza. We have the adjective ‘quixotic’, the phrase ‘to tilt at windmills’, and The Man of La Mancha. Telemann (1681-1767) was inspired to write a Burlesque de Quixote in 8 movements. He tells, in music for a string orchestra, the highlights of the books, including the attack on the windmills. From the first notes of the overture, the confident ensemble of tutors and students swept into the story, and in the movements about Quixote’s steed, Rosinante, and Sancho’s ass, the players bounced up and down as if on horseback, Gangnam style being a little difficult if you’re playing the violin.
There was musical pictorialism in Schmelzer’s (1623-1680) Die Musikalische Fechtschule, about a fencing school. Let me break the first rule of fencing school, and talk about it. It was a skilfully written and executed piece, a reminder that so much music of the period is still unrecognized.
Their playing of the Corelli (1653-1713) Concerto Grosso in D major, Opus 6, Number 4, was sumptuous in timbre from start to finish, itself enough to render the concert memorable. But wait, there was more.
There is a maxim from 1930’s crime fiction that, if someone produces a gun, it has to be fired. If a bunch of young violinists from Marryattville High School arrive and take up one of the front rows, they will have to play. They scrambled onto the stage to join the others for La Battalia, by Biber (1664-1704).
The opening sonata is enlivened by the ensemble stamping their feet in rhythm. Drunken peasants sing their favourite songs in a discordant row in the second movement, and we follow through to the battle and the sad aftermath. At one point, Rob Nairn follows Biber’s instruction to imitate the snare drum on his double bass, against Rachael Beesly’s imitation of a fife. The company launch into what is a true battle royal, percussive and aggressive, then suddenly the first desk ‘celli turned their backs on the audience, threatening their comrades with fiercely pointed bows. The sad lament for the fallen, ends the piece, and signalled the end of the amazing concert, so full of energy and emotion.
There were two previous concerts, one of which I attended live, and one I picked up off the Elder Conservatorium website.
The first, Baroque Music Today, featured the tutors, in a program that featured the two titans, Bach (1685-1750), and Handel (1685-1759), and a lesser-known, but intriguing, French composer J. B. Boismortier (1689-1755). His Trio Sonata in A minor, Opus 37, number 5, was prefaced by bassoonist Simon Rickard reading a short verse that was rather scathing of the prolific composing schedule that Boismortier followed. The laugh, however, was on the scoffers. Boismortier wrote for highly capable amateur musicians. He also had a royal patent to engrave music. He wrote it, he printed it, he sold it, and he made a very tidy fortune.
Is it blasphemy for me to say that I preferred the Handel to the Bach? The Orchestral Suite No.2 in B minor, BWV 1067, was delivered gracefully, with the ensemble supporting the avian warblings of baroque flautist, Melissa Farrow. It finished with the well-known and witty badinerie, but I would have traded it for another Handel Concerto Grosso to balance the F major, Opus 6, Number 2, that brought the concert to a close.
The Friday lunchtime concert from the Elder Hall was the one that I revisited via the Elder Conservatorium website, Stylus Phantasticus. This gave the tutors a chance to explore a varied repertoire, Bach, of course, and Telemann, the almost unknown Cima, and some Biber. I managed to track down the live stream, but couldn’t find it a second time. Good luck.
— Ewart Shaw, BWW Review, Saturday 10th April 2021