26 February 2015

Broken Consorts

Ensemble Offspring and Ironwood
45 Downstairs
23 February 2015

How does a classical music writer deal with performance they don’t understand and music they don’t really like? That was my only (personal, I admit) problem with this recital. It was one of programming.

45 Downstairs was an ideal venue for these instruments. The bricks and glass windows behind and the ancient timber floor beneath liked the strings and were bright enough not to lose the woods and percussion.

Which brings me to this: as percussionist and joint music director for the series, Claire Edwardes confirmed her position as top-notch percussion – and indeed musician - in Australia.

A consort, the program told me (I didn’t know that!) is a collection of similar instruments, eg viols. A mix of consorts equals a broken consort. Musically, there was nothing broken about this lot. They had thought carefully about this concert - even their ‘broken’ dress: black, white, and black and white.


Their real genius was their treatment of the music: 17th century pieces seen from a 21st century perspective. Matthew Locke, student of Edward Gibbons, (student of Orlando) wrote music that is firmly English Baroque – very contrapuntal and no tremolo – on gut strings, in this case obviously written for dancing not for singing. Consort of Flower Parts was played straight – simply gorgeous. Later, his Suite from The Tempest became a tantalising walk through some history of music. It was C17 played with prepared piano, bass clarinet, glass bells and bowed, prepared vibraphone. And it worked. That is, it grabbed me – even the impromptu sing around the piano (Google, “Tie up the wind”.)

William Lawes Consorts in Six Parts was fugal, deliciously complex and richly played on contemporary instruments. It drew me to Bach’s unaccompanied cello suites except that Bach* did it all with one string line.

The Broken Consorts idea was clear in Felicity Wilcox’s Uncovered Ground. It was an intriguing dialogue between early and new music where she had written glimpses of the (musical) ground like a ‘chipped paint wall’ before the ground is revealed. The bowed vibraphone was eerie, the bass clarinet didgeridoo-like and it took me to the Australian bush. Was it intended to? It doesn’t matter. The piece was commissioned by Ensemble Offspring. I’m glad they did.

I came unstuck with Damien Ricketson’s Trace Elements (badly) and less so with Mary Finister’sSilva with its dripping rainforest references.


This program and these instrumentations could easily have been simply ‘clever’. The program was cleverly intelligent. The performance was great. I loved it.

I went to this recital with a freebie I 'won' from a link to Flinders Quartet newsletter.

*
WL 1602 - 1645 Musician to Charles 1; killed fighting for the Royalists at the siege of Chester.
ML 1621 - 1677 Composer in Ordinary to Charles 11; succeeded by Purcell.
JSB 1685 - 1750

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