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Review of the Bowral Autumn Music Festival

This is the review of the music festival that my organisation was heavily involved in the early part of this year. On this occasion, I played the theorbo for all three concerts that featured music from the early-seventeenth century all the way up to J. S. Bach. It is nice to be mentioned, even if it was just once! Usually a theorbo or continuo player is forgotten.

'We heard Shaun Ng on the theorbo in a solo composition by Johann Kapsberger and a Chaconne by Robert De Visée, both sensitively performed on this large 14-stringed instrument that was formerly little known to most of the audience.'

Review by Elizabeth Dalton

The Bowral Autumn Music Festival was held at St Jude’s Church, Bowral between 28th and 30th March, 2014. Now in its 8th year it was again a feast of chamber music that was mostly Baroque, combined with some Romantic and 20th century works, providing programs of interest and great enjoyment.

The performing artists included David Miller (piano) and Wendy Dixon (soprano) from the Grevillea Ensemble with Yvette Goodchild (viola), and members of the Australian Historical Performing Initiative (AHPI), Tim Willis and Annie Gard (violins), Anthony Donovan (viola, violin), Alex Nicholls (cello), Joanna Tondys (harpsichord and baroque organ), Shaun Ng (theorbo), and Liane Sadler (baroque flute), who were joined by vocalists Richard Butler (tenor), Chris Hopkins (counter-tenor), Alex Knight (bass), Meinir Thomas and Sarah Ampil (sopranos). Organists David Crean and David Tagg played in recital performances and Allan Beavis performed organ preludes to each of the concerts.

The Festival opened on Friday at St Jude’s Church in Bowral with two songs by Brahms (Op. 91) for voice, viola and piano presented with both warmth and dramatic expression by Wendy Dixon, David Miller and Yvette Goodchild. Then followed the song cycle of Francis Poulenc, Tel Jour, Telle Nuit for voice and piano, in which both soprano and pianist captured the sensitive lyricism of the Surrealist poetry of Paul Eluard. Two sonnets by William Alabaster for voice, viola and piano by the 20th century British composer, Edmund Rubbra were next on the program. The ambience of St Jude’s enhanced the religious context of these works. Paul Hindemith’s viola sonata Op. 11, no.4 followed with the amber tones of Yvette Goodchild giving expression to the restrained lyricism of this work. To complete the program the three performers played the Three Songs for voice, viola and piano by Frank Bridge.

Later that afternoon we were treated to a wonderful recital on the organ by the young David Tagg, who played works by Bach, Couperin, Howells, Buxtehude, Ireland and Elgar.

Concert II on Friday night introduced us to several members of the Australian Historical Performance Initiative. Tim Willis (violin) explained the differences between the baroque violin and the modern day instrument and Shaun Ng introduced the theorbo, a very large baroque lute. They started with an ‘Ouverture’ from the Suite in G Major, “La Bizarre”, by Telemann. Then the tenor, Richard Butler, sang two early motets by the Polish composer, Stanislaw Szarzyński, accompanied by violins and continuo. The next item, Bach’s Orchestral Suite in B Minor, BWV 1067, featured the baroque flute, played by Liane Sadler, who demonstrated the pure sounds of the early instrument with great fluency. After interval, the ever popular Pachelbel Canon preceded the Bach cantata “Ich habe genung”. In the version scored for tenor and obbligato flute, Richard Butler’s expressive presentation was complemented by the soft tones of Liane Sadler’s flute providing an ethereal quality to the music.

Concert III on Saturday morning moved to the Mittagong Playhouse. The Grevillea Ensemble, in a slight change from the printed program, opened with Purcell’s The Blessed Virgin’s Expostulation with Wendy Dixon capturing the anxiety and emotion of the Virgin Mary when she realises her son has gone missing in the temple. Then followed the early chamber cantata of Handel, Filli adorata e cara, again delivered with great passion appropriate to the subject of love in all its joy and pain. By contrast the next item was a more light-hearted aria by Handel’s contemporary, Johann Hasse, “Se troppo credo al ciglio”. Then followed two arias from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas – “Belinda” and “When I’m laid in earth”. The delicate interplay of voice and accompaniment continued in the next item, an aria by Rameau, “Rossignols amoureux”. Then followed the secular cantata, E qual chosa, by Antonio Caldara. To conclude the program we were treated to  Handel’s aria “Let the bright Seraphim”. This was an uplifting and powerful performance which brought the recital to a rousing close.

In the Saturday afternoon concert the American organist, David Crean was welcomed back to Bowral on his second visit. The program opened with Buxtehude’s Praeludium in D Major (BuxWV 139), a rhapsodic work that demonstrated the organist’s excellent pedal skills. There followed a Passacaglia by Bach, a sonata by Hindemith, Prelude and fugue, Op. 7, no.1 by Dupré, César Franck’s Prelude, Fugue and variations, Mendelssohn’ s Sonata in D minor Op. 65 no.1, two miniatures by Leon Boëllmann and the popular finale of Louis Vierne’s First Organ Symphony. For organ enthusiasts this recital was a feast, masterfully delivered in the ideal setting of St Jude’s.

The very popular Bach Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, performed on the organ by Allan Beavis, was the prelude to Concert V on Saturday evening. This was an all-Bach program but for the inclusion of Buxtehude’s cantata, Queamdodun deisderat cervus, BuxWv 92. The concert opened with Bach’s motet Jesu, meine Freude, BWV 227, performed by members of the AHPI, who were joined by Meinir Thomas and Sarah Ampil (sopranos), Richard Butler (tenor), Chris Hopkins (counter-tenor), and Alex Knight (bass). This was an intense and compelling performance of a musically complex work. Liane Sadler then introduced us to the baroque flute, explaining its differences to the modern flute. She described it as having an organic sound and demonstrated this pure tone quality very beautifully in the Bach Trio Sonata for flute, violin and continuo, BWV 1038. She was accompanied by Tim Willis (violin) Joanna Tondys (harpsichordist), Alex Nicholls (cello) and Shaun Ng (theorbo). The Buxtehude work followed with Richard Butler (tenor) joined by Tim Willis and Annie Gard (violins) and continuo from Alex Nicholls, Shaun Ng and Joanna Tondys in a performance that demonstrated a natural fluency and feeling for baroque style. After interval Joanna Tondys was soloist in the Concerto for Harpsichord in A, BWV 1055, a work of popular appeal and then Liane Sadler returned to the stage for the Sonata in C Major BWV 1033. The concert concluded with the motet Lobet den Hern, alle Heiden, BWV 230.

The new starting time of 5.30 pm afforded Festival members the opportunity to meet the performers after the concert at a most convivial reception at the Berrima District Art Society’s gallery in nearby Short Street.

The Festival Service on Sunday morning featured How lovely are thy dwellings fair by Brahms as an introit and then Mozart’s Missa Brevis No. 6 performed by the Festival Chorale, directed by Allan Beavis, with Kim Stewart (organ and harpsichord), Danielle Koek and Lesley Staats (violins) and Catherine Barnett (cello).

Allan Beavis played the Bach Organ prelude in E Minor (BWV 548) before Concert VI on Sunday afternoon. This final concert showcased all the members of AHPI. We heard Shaun Ng on the theorbo in a solo composition by Johann Kapsberger and a Chaconne by Robert De Visée, both sensitively performed on this large 14-stringed instrument that was formerly little known to most of the audience. Richard Butler sang two moving recitatives from Monteverdi’s Orfeo and some beautiful French ‘airs de cours’ by Sebastien Le Camus and Michel Lambert. Liane Sadler again performed admirably in a sonata by Jean-Marie LeClair and another by Marin Marais. Joanna Tondys was allowed to move from her accompaniment role to take centre stage for a skilful performance in the Toccata for solo harpsichord by Girolamo Frescobaldi. Special mention must be made of the wonderful baroque cello playing of Alex Nicholls who performed continuo parts in almost every work.

Special thanks and congratulations must go to Allan Beavis, Director of the Festival and his Committee, who in collaboration with Yvette Goodchild, Artistic Director, again organised a wonderful Festival. The performers were all of the highest calibre. The Grevillea Ensemble highlighted the intimate nature of chamber music in their empathetic performances and the young members of the Australian Historical Performance Initiative displayed great expertise and passion for music of the Baroque period.

Elizabeth Dalton