Sunday, May 28, 2023

“Well-tempered Bach,” Thoroughbass early music ensemble. At Wesley Music Centre, May 27. Reviewed by HELEN MUSA.


Weston, L and Arnott, R. Photo: Peter Hislop

THOROUGHBASS early music ensemble, founded by Sydney harpsichordist Diana Weston, is on an avowed mission is to uncover the unusual, the recently re-discovered, and to see familiar things in a new light. Its newest concert, “Well-tempered Bach,” was the perfect illustration of all three aims.

Performed by Weston and Central coast conductor/recorder player, Joanne Arnott, this recital focused on compositions suitable for this combination of instruments, beginning with Bach and Telemann, continuing with a threnody by Elena Kats-Chernin, and, of great interest to Canberra music aficionados, concluding with a commissioned from former Canberra composer, Katia Tiutiunnik, a prizewinning PhD. graduate in composition from the ANU.

The program took its title from JSBach’s collection for keyboard, "The well-tempered Clavier," but in fact they performed just one work from that – Bach’s Prelude And Fugue Number IV from Book I in C sharp minor, satisfying the “unusual” aim in that the theme comprises only four notes.

The first half of the program also uncluded Bach’s “Sonata in F for treble and continuo” and his “Fourteen Canons on the First Eight Notes” theme from the Goldberg Variations, Telemann’s “Methodical Sonata No. 4 for treble and continuo” and Bach’s Sonata in A Minor alternative fur Altblockflöte und obligates Cembalo, originally written as a flute sonata, but adapted from recorder.

Joanne Arnott, R. Photo: Peter Hislop

The complexity of these compositions and the physical necessities of the recorder meant that there was restraint in emotional contact with the audience, except when Arnott performed on the treble recorder. The pauses in between movements allowing Arnott to change between her four recorders gave the recital at this point an almost academic flavour, accessible to recorder connoisseurs.

The second half of the recital turned to contemporary Australian compositions, beginning with Kats-Chernin’s work “Green Leaf,” written in memory of Elke Neidhardt, director of many works for Opera Australia, who had died in 2014.

Originally written for unaccompanied piano, this composition has been repurposed by Weston for harpsichord and recorder to great effect, although Weston was at pains to emphasise that every note was as written by Kats-Chernin’s.

Here the harpsichord provided a percussive bass line, while Arnott’s recorder provided the sad melody.

The finale was Tiutiunnik’s now-completed trilogy (it began in 2022) “Iluminada: Três Reflexões sobre Fátima ["Illuminated: Three Reflections on Fatima"] for harpsichord and recorder,” commissioned by Thoroughbass.

Dianan Weston. Photo: Peter Hislop

The work was inspired by visitations of the Blessed Virgin to three young children in Fátima, Portugal during 1917, known as the "Fatima” visitations.

Hugely controversial in the Catholic Church because of their predictive visions of apocalyptic chaos, some secrets of the visitation have been suppressed by the Vatican until now. The event has long-fascinated Tiutiunnik, who spent time in Rome the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia.

Tiutiunnik's repertoire is considerable. As a young composer in Canberra she created a work for violin and orchestra (in honour of Queen Noor of Jordan, and while completing her doctorate at the ANU, she also took out honours in Arabic, adding to her musical vocabulary the ecstatic traditions of Islam, not unlike the experiences at Fatima.

In composing “Iluminada,” the melodies of her “three reflections” are written in the Japanese Akebono scale, a pentatonic scale closely resembling a western minor key.

The solemn first moment, "Shadows of Secrets", was captured by Arnott on tenor recorder, while the second, “Rainha Resplandecente,” ["Resplendent Queen"] performed on the descant recorder, was full of lively animation, suggestive of a Chinese flute.

This fascinating finale came to a conclusion with the ecstatic ”Dança Sagrada” [“Sacred Dance”] where both harpsichord and flute combined pleasingly to give the sense of a wild dance.