The Muses’ Delight: Musica Borealis/Australis

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Published: 24th March, 2019

German flautist, maker, composer and author, Johann Joachim Quantz is quoted as saying “For that which does not come from the heart does not easily reach the heart.” Well, the heart was exactly where the music came from at the first 2019 concert of The Muses’ Delight held at Church of All Nations, Carlton.

Meredith Beardmore, flute, Katie Yap, violin, and Lucy Price, cello, were joined by visiting Italian/Indian violist, Krishna Nagaraja, to present a program which skillfully blended baroque and folk music from Nordic countries. Traditional folk tunes from Finland, Sweden and Denmark were interwoven with Trio Sonatas by Roman, Freithoff, and Wesström, anonymous pieces from the Gabriel Hannelius manuscript as well as a contemporary composition by AM Lehtipuu.

The concert began gently with violin and viola processing slowly from the back corners to meet the cello at the front of the room. Such was the nature of the music, that some in audience had not recognised the concert had started and continued their conversation. The first work was a traditional Finnish Curtain Polskas arranged by Krishna Nagaraja. The relaxed gut string/wooden sound of baroque instruments captured the folk idiom perfectly and the effect was stunning. Next the flute joined – elegant, accurate and sensitive. The ensemble took turns interjecting and droning as the flute waxed lyrical overhead and all players ended up in front of the audience. Melodies passed seamlessly between instruments and established the group’s folk playing credentials, but so much more was to come.

The four movement Trio Sonata in E minor by Johann Helmich Roman showed appropriate contrasts in the Lento; Vivace; Lento; Non presto movements. Subtle then syncopated, calm then lively, the communication between violin and viola was a highlight.

An Anonymous composer of the Gabriel Hannelius manuscript gave the violin and cello a chance to play pieces written originally for solo flute: two Menuets and a Gigue. These are unpublished and we were possibly hearing their premiere in Australia. Lucy Price effortlessly improvised a bass-line to these dances to which Katie Yap gave virtuosic lightness. The open melodies and harmonies seemed characteristically Finnish.

It felt like we had stopped in at Italy for the third baroque work by Johan Henrik Freithoff, a Norwegian-Danish composer. His Trio Sonata in G contained an Allegro, Andante and Allegro movements and were demanding for the cello and consisted of repeated descending scalic passages reminiscent of Vivaldi. The restful Andante with moving parts and gentle cadences by cello gave way to what could have been a cousin of The Four Seasons, the final Allegro. Perhaps Freithoff had spent time in Italy.

Brandenhambo was a gift by the composer AM Lehtipuu to Krishna Nagaraja at a time when he was being challenged by learning the viola part of the third Brandenburg Concerto. It aimed to encourage him with a “hambo” or Swedish dance. As with all of Nagaraja’s arrangements during the concert, it was complex, involved and beautiful. A duet between viola and cello, he explained it told the story of two dancers seeing each other from a distance, seeking each other, then beginning to dance together. There was a wonderful use of chords and bell-like harmonics, the music stepping, jumping and leaping as the dance escalated.

Meredith Beardmore followed with more from the Anonymous composer of the Gabriel Hannelius manuscript, this time playing the pieces as written, for solo flute. The Menuet, Menuet and Gigue were challenging in their florid passages yet executed with poise and style.

Two more arrangements by Nagaraja were the most refined folk renditions you could imagine. Never boring or dull, his arrangements used the folk tunes, elaborated on them fully with Baroque sensitivities never far away. The Dansen ungdom, which he likened to a Swedish sports car, had a jig-like quality and utilised the flute, violin and viola. The Fanø set employed all players and I was struck by their blended resonance, musicality and pitch accuracy. It was here that I was truly delighted!

The final programmed piece by Anders Wesström, Swedish Baroque composer, was the third movement, Allegro moderato-Presto, of his Quartet No. 3 in D. Another highlight of the concert, this ensemble displayed effortless mastery and high energy and stirred the audience so much with their expert baroque interpretation, that they were applauded for several minutes.

An encore of some more Johann Helmich Roman and a Finnish tune – a real hoedown and the most non-boring and ingenous folk arrangement I’ve ever heard.

The ensemble takes their name from Euterpe, Greek muse of music. Her name translates as “delight” and it was certainly present this day in music that came straight from the hearts of the players to the hearts of the audience. Quantz would have been delighted too!

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Bronwen Whyatt attended the performance of The Muses’ Delight held at Church of All Nations, Carlton on March 16, 2019.