Limelight’s brains trust of early music practitioners share their secret pleasures from the bygone period.
Paul Dyer Artistic Director, Australian Brandenburg Orchestra
I programme a lot of Baroque treasures and love to shuffle the cards and pull something out of the pack to present in a modern and distinctly Australian way. A recent example is the Ciaccona à 7 in C by the 17th-century German priest Philip Jakob Rittler (c.1637-1690). I took his simple Baroque harmonic structure and, with our brilliant Brandenburg improvisers, gave it a distinct cinematic flavour – while paying full respect to Rittler’s brilliant creation. Our audiences loved it!
The Australian Brandenburg Orchestra performs a programme of Baroque concertos in Blazing Baroque, July 28-August 8
Edgar Moreau Cellist
The Cello Concerto in C by Carlo Graziani (c.1710-1787) is a wonderful discovery that deserves a place in the canon. It’s a multifaceted work remarkable for the variety of its sonic palette and colours as well as its style, flitting between Classical and Baroque. It’s a cellist’s dream for its ornaments and expansive lyricism. I was thrilled to be the first to record it. Listen without moderation!
Jean Rondeau Harpsichordist
Royer’s (1705-1734) music is wild and fanciful, mining treasure in the farthest reaches of the imagination. Daring, surprises, contrasts, humour… he is dizzyingly inventive. For me, Le Vertigo from the first book of his Pièces de Clavecin, is like a conjuring trick, the work of an illusionist. It is a fantaisie to the power of ten! It concentrates a CinemaScope movie into five short minutes; Royer gives us an opera in 300 seconds; there is even a dizzying cascade at the cadence.
Emma Matthews Soprano
I discovered many new Baroque works recently when I toured with Musica Viva and Victorian Opera in Voyage to the Moon. A new composer to me, Johann Adolph Hasse really fired me up. I sang O Placido il Mare (or, in our case, “As Strong as an Army”). Such incredibly difficult runs – I thought it’d be impossible at first! But now I’d love to sing more of his music. The audience’s response was as exciting as if I’d sung Sempre Libera! I loved the challenge of conquering those fiendish coloratura passages and pushing the rules with crazy ornaments. But you have to ornament! Da capos without ornaments are deadly dull. So yes, Hasse is my new composer crush.
Erin Helyard Co-Artistic Director, Pinchgut Opera
One of my favourite ensembles is Le Poème Harmonique, with Vincent Dumestre at the helm. Their 2003 disc Nova Metamorfosi is a real treasure and shows what imaginative and intelligent musicians can do with the underprescriptive scores of the 17th century. The sacred works featured are by Ruffo, Coppini, Monteverdi and some anonymous composers too. Stunning!
Mahan Esfahani Harpsichordist
I think it’s a real shame that more people don’t know Wilhelm Friedemann Bach (1710-1784). He is really an amazing composer. These Bach sons are no joke but Friedemann in particular is a very special, very troubled person. He was a great improviser, of course, and there’s very little from him on paper, but it’s all so worth it. The harpsichord concertos are marvellous, there’s a couple of symphonies and there are the sonatas. The D Major Sonata is wonderful as is an E Flat Major Sonata that he wrote. Of course, we live in an age where we use music as background, but WF Bach is music that you’ve got to really sit in a room, close the door and listen to. It demands that and it deserves that.
Richard Gill Principal Conductor, orchestra seventeen88
Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706) wrote much more than just the famous Canon for which he seems to be universally known. Great though the Canon may be, his Toccata for Organ in C Major shows a composer gifted in thematic development with a knowledge of the organ well above the average and a capacity to delight the ear in a very special way. You should try it!
Rachel Podger Violinist
Francesco Maria Veracini (1690-1768) was an Italian composer and violinist. His skills on the violin were heard and valued by many in various cities across Europe, and accounts by the diarist Frances Burney and Charles de Brosses reveal him to have been quite an imposing character, and possibly a little mad: “his playing is just, noble, knowledgable and precise, but a little lacking in grace” (de Brosses), “the peculiarities of his performance were his bow-hand, his shake, his learned arpeggios, and a tone so loud and clear, that it could be distinctly heard through the most numerous band of a church or theatre.” He made such an impression on the younger Tartini, who upon hearing him play in 1712 locked himself away to study and improve his bow technique in imitation of the older player. He famously leapt out of a third-storey window in Dresden in a fit of madness brought on by too much music study and the reading of alchemy! Despite this, all agreed he was the first, or at least one of the first, violinists in Europe.
Maurice Steger Recordist
I love the Neapolitan violinist, teacher and composer Nicolò Fiorenza (1700-1764). What power in his music and personality! He mistreated his students in Santa Maria di Loreto Conservatorium for 19 years but wrote fantastic music, full of passion, sadness, aggression and inspiration. In his music the recorder is like an opera singer, a virtuoso artistic melodic instrument and an inconspicuous instrumental colour in the polyphonic works.
Leo Schofield Festival Director, Brisbane Baroque
Lully. Definitely Lully. Specifically Atys. Back in the early ‘90s I tried desperately to bring Les Arts Florissants’ stupendous production of this opera to Melbourne. It was one of the most ravishing stagings I have ever seen. In 1989, Harvey Lichtenstein, then boss of the Brooklyn Academy of Music, shocked patrons of that temple of the avant-garde by presenting a masterpiece of the 17th century as part of a programme heavy with work by Robert Wilson, Philip Glass, Twyla Tharp and other such luvvies. Atys was sensationally received and other French Baroque work followed including Charpentier’s Médée with the incomparable Lorraine Hunt Lieberson in the title role. Of course, costs defeated my plans for Atys in Oz but money was no object for the American agrochemical magnate who, smitten with Christie’s production the first time around, funded a recent revival at BAM to the tune of five million dollars.
What is it about the Baroque? Not all that long ago the music had been virtually forgotten. But now it’s back, and it’s more popular than ever. We investigate the what, why and how of classical music’s greatest growth industry in our April 2016 issue.