This boutique festival celebrating classical and fine music has flourished over eleven years with Artistic Director Julia Fredersdorff at the helm. Having decided to pass the baton on to Ben Opie, Julia’s final Festival has featured nineteen performances over eight days in wineries, churches and marquees on the Mornington Peninsula. Some are present for most performances, while others sample a few. I felt very much imbued with Festival spirit by attending five concerts over two days.
The Festival Gala. Saturday 7.00pm
A cool change arrived in Flinders a little before 6.00pm on Saturday, just allowing the harpsichord time to be moved from safe storage in an air-conditioned local home to the marquee (in the grounds of the Church of St John the Evangelist) and to be tuned. The musicians, dressed in their beachwear, had little time for a proper warm-up, but the audience gathered with their own picnic chairs and enjoyed local wines from the bar, and gourmet chicken sliders (in the absence of a barbecue on this fire ban day), or their own hampers.
Genesis Baroque, a newly formed ensemble of ten baroque strings and a bassoon, assembled on stage now wearing concert blacks, Lotte Betts-Dean, the mezzo-soprano soloist for the evening had taken her place beside the stage in the ‘waiting area’, and leader Lucinda Moon was tuning the orchestra. Guest French conductor and harpsichordist Martin Gester came to the stage. He looked at the music stand on the centrally situated harpsichord from which he was to conduct and play. He whispered to leader of the orchestra Lucinda Moon, then disappeared. She tuned the orchestra again. Much whispering and watching for his re-entry, while the audience just enjoyed more opportunity to relax in their picnic chairs and continue with that glass of excellent Peninsula wine!
Reappearing not from a doorway but from a small crack in the side of the marquee, the apparently relaxed conductor materialised, announcing in his thick French accent that a “Flinders wind” had blown his music away, and he needed to find some alternative! “It looks a bit different” he said, “but we will see how it goes!”
It went well! The French Baroque program was excellent, with the wonderfully expressive ornamentation, and a fabulous Festival air. Nothing was pompous, but the music-making was obviously a joy for those performing, and it was received always in the same spirit, even the local cockatoos joining in occasionally.
Opening with the Overture to Leclair’s only surviving opera, Scylla and Glaucus, the orchestra sounded wonderful. Conductor Martin Gester was positioned below the band, standing on the ground in front of the stage to play the harpsichord at what would normally be a conductor’s podium. The orchestra was standing, so Lucinda Moon’s expressive facial expressions, elastic body, and violin gestures were essential in keeping the ensemble together. Linked by a beautiful harpsichord improvisation, two arias from the same opera were next, from mezzo soloist Lotte Betts- Dean. With impeccable French, and very stylish ornamentation, she was immediately an audience favourite
Another Leclair ouverture in La Majeur was next for the orchestra, with some exquisite delayed cadences well worth the wait. Rameau’s beautiful aria from Castor et Pollux, “Tristes apprêts” was introduced by Betts-Dean, who clearly did enjoy singing this beautiful aria, in which the princess Télaïre expresses her grief over the death of Castor. Betts-Dean’s wonderful sense of line and mellowness of tone across a wide range are very impressive.
Equally satisfying was Lucinda Moon’s stylish solo violin in Leclair’s “Concerto in C Major”, Op.7 No.3. She is a highly respected Baroque violinist on the world stage, and we are fortunate to still have her based in Australia.
After interval, we heard a Muffat Sonata, and then Lully’s “Enfin il est en ma puissance”, a psychological drama from his opera Armide, powerfully portrayed by Lotte Betts-Dean, and “Passacaille” for orchestra from the same opera.
In this program of French Baroque music, “La morte di Lucrezia”, a cantata Italiana by Montéclair was a highlight. Frustrated by the Lully and Quinaud (librettist) institution that prevented other composers from writing opera, Montéclair’s cantata was a lesson of Italian style. Still so clearly Baroque, this cantata gave full dramatic opportunity for the voice of the violated Lucrezia to express all her complex emotions through a range of dramatic colours, right to her death, and then continue as the commentator. This was a wonderful vehicle through which to appreciate the full range of Betts-Dean’s impressive capabilities.
Finishing with the “Chaconne” from Dardanus by Rameau, conductor Martin Gester explained the significance of the repeated bass line as being a fitting conclusion for a happy ending – a symbol of eternity, or “happily ever after”. A Rameau encore allowed us to hear one more technique from Betts-Dean – excellent coloratura passages, delivered in stylish fashion, again with the support of the excellent Genesis Baroque orchestra, under Gester’s direction, with occasional extra contributions from the cockatoos.
This was a wonderful Festival Gala, with a supportive audience who clearly enjoyed the evening in every way. Look out for the Genesis Baroque 2018 concerts at fortyfivedownstairs in April and October, and support a new vibrant baroque ensemble.