Tout Français with Thoroughbass Reviews

Review by Paul Nolan from Sydney Arts Guide.
Nov 19, 2014

'Ng’s phrasing, articulation and embellishment flowed energetically and contained eloquent freedoms and expression. The dance music presented showed admirable clarity of line, tone and rhythm as his period instrument provided a sunny atmosphere with fleeting but effective shifts to a darker tonality and mood.'

This concert joyously adhered to its advertised French theme. It celebrated the instrumental and vocal music composed during the rule of Louis XIV. The audience was introduced to a range of interesting works from lesser known composers than the often heard greats of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The programme was well constructed to provide constant variety of ensemble and style.

String player Shaun Ng and vocalist Anna Fraser brought to the afternoon their experience, solid musicianship and exciting attention to performance practice. The balance with harpsichordist Diana Weston was always well suited to the dance or vocal works filling the church acoustic.

Dance music was celebrated on bass viol with harpsichord accompaniment. There was one by Boismortier with a mammoth nine movement structure and an earlier suite from Caix d’Hervelois. Shaun Ng excelled in defining the dance styles in each suite and promoting the attractive capabilities of the bass viol.

Ng’s phrasing, articulation and embellishment flowed energetically and contained eloquent freedoms and expression. The dance music presented showed admirable clarity of line, tone and rhythm as his period instrument provided a sunny atmosphere with fleeting but effective shifts to a darker tonality and mood.

Interspersed at satisfying points amongst the instrumental items were two brackets of vocal music featuring Anna Fraser. These were accompanied by Diana Weston on harpsichord and Shaun Ng’s talents on viola da gamba or baroque violin. Fraser’s interpretations contained a beautiful feel for word painting and a fine rendering of the period French poetry.

Her first bracket presented Louise-Maurice de la Pierre’s cantatille, ‘Danae’. This was a dramatic performance which rose to the greater meaning and mythology in the text. Text repetitions set to repeats of music or new material were well highlighted by Fraser.

Fraser’s later pair of songs by Michel Lambert, ‘J’ay si bien publié vos attraits mes vainqueurs’, as well as ‘Les regards de Phillis avoient tant de douceur’ enlivened the texts concerning the woes of love and references to Princess Phyllis from Greek mythology. These ensemble moments combining keyboard, string playing and vocal delivery were highlights of the afternoon.

Diana Weston performed an interesting harpsichord work, ‘Jupiter’, as published by Jean-Baptiste Forqueray (1699-1782). This was a fine instrumental interlude, demonstrating much of the arsenal of keyboard gesture, effects and bravura available to forward-looking instrumentalists, improvisers and composers of the day.

TOUT FRANCAIS succeeded in offering its concert audience an elegant and authentic sample of a productive and sunny time in music history. The fine setting and acoustic of St Luke’s church assisted with the clear delivery of the programme’s ideals and admirable architecture. This Thoroughbass concert was performed for one afternoon only, on November 16, at the St Luke’s Anglican Church, Mosman. It would, however, have no doubt continued to delight if taken on a small tour to other locations and intimate venues.


Review by Marguerite Foxon from Classikon.
Nov 16, 2014

'Well-deserved applause, including in the middle of D’Hervelois’ Suite after one very difficult movement with frantic finger work by Shaun Ng, attested to how satisfying it is to attend a concert such as this with outstanding performers presenting music that is rarely heard and probably difficult to purchase on CD.'

ThoroughBass, a Sydney ensemble founded in 2009 and which performs lesser-known baroque and contemporary music, served up wonderful musical fare on Sunday afternoon in another of the St Luke’s Concert Series in Mosman. Diana Weston led from the harpsichord, and was joined by Anna Fraser (soprano) and Dr Shaun Ng (viol da gamba and baroque violin). Together they treated the audience of several dozen music lovers to some delightful but little known pieces by early 18thC French composers.

The concert was aptly named Tout Français, an all French program that presented music composed during the reign of Louis XIV, often for dances at his court. The well-known composers of the time (including Forqueray, Lambert, Boismortier, de la Pierre, and d’Hervelois – hardly household names today) were virtuoso players and gifted composers who incorporated dance rhythms into much of their music. Dance was certainly the name of the game in this program – we were treated to gavottes, allemandes, sarabandes, minuets, and rigaudons on harpsichord and viola da gamba/violin and although no one started dancing in the aisle, I’m probably not the only one who was tapping my toe on several occasions! It was easy to close one’s eyes and imagine gorgeously dressed 18thC men and women of the Sun King’s court moving in stately fashion to the music.

Boismortier’s suite of dances was written for viol da gamba virtuosos, and Shaun Ng accompanied by harpsichord played the nine movements of the first Suite superbly. Diana Weston performed Forqueray’s Jupiter on solo harpsichord – the piece was originally written for viola da gamba but later rearranged in the interests of making it more commercially attractive. Anna Fraser sang in two of the five pieces on the program with much feeling and excellent diction. She is a strong and expressive singer whose voice seemed perfectly suited to the acoustics of the space. Translations from the French were provided in the program notes. Well-deserved applause, including in the middle of D’Hervelois’ Suite after one very difficult movement with frantic finger work by Shaun Ng, attested to how satisfying it is to attend a concert such as this with outstanding performers presenting music that is rarely heard and probably difficult to purchase on CD.


Review by Alison Evans from SoundsLikeSydney.
Nov 16, 2014

Courtly dance music by lesser-known French composers was the focus for this concert given by Diana Weston – founder of early music ensemble Thoroughbass, with viola da gamba player, Shaun Ng and soprano Anna Fraser. Most of the works performed were composed during the reign of Louis XIV, who had a great influence on musical style. The most popular compositional form at this time was the dance and the suite – a collection of dances.

Diana and Shaun opened the concert with Suite No 1 in G from 34 Movements in 5 Suites (op 31) by Joseph Bodin Bortmortier. Boismortier would have composed this suite for a virtuoso violist. The seven-stringed bass viol was popular in 17th century France as a solo instrument. The subdued, mellow sound of the instrument with its blended harmonies and capacity of range lends itself well to virtuosic ensemble writing.

Anna Fraser joined Shaun and Diana to sing Danaé from Cantatilles à voix seule Vol 2 by Louise-Maurice de la Pierre. An experienced performer of early repertoire, Anna sang with a pure tone that balanced with the accompaniment and her embellishments were finely executed.

Diana played a harpsichord solo by Jean-Baptiste Forqueray – Jupiter – that was originally composed for viol, but later arranged for harpsichord to promote its saleability. Forqueray, also a viol player, came from a family of musicians. This solo must have sounded ahead of its time, with its virtuosic runs and busy rhythmic melodies.

Similar virtuosity was displayed in Suite No. 1 from Premier Livre de Pieces de Viole avec la Basse-Continuë by Louis de Caix d’Hervelois. Being a virtuoso viol performer, d’Hervelois’ suite exploits the characteristics of the instrument and the performer’s skill.

Two short songs by Michel Lambert concluded the concert. Despite the melancholic poems on which the songs were set, Anna sang with exquisite vibrancy – her voice filled St Luke’s Anglican Church with warmth and ringing tone.