Evergreen Ensemble’s evening performance in the beautiful, intimate setting of the Melbourne Recital Centre’s Primrose Potter Salon was both an aural and visual treat. In a program of early music and Scottish tunes which rarely surface in the modern music scene, sounds of wildlife were brought to life with a combination of dynamic expressivity, instrumental flair and extended techniques.
Opening with Bremner’s witty Scottish air, Hit Her on the Bum, the ensemble’s sprightly fiddling set the tone for an unconventionally light-hearted, yet delightful chamber music program to follow. Baroque birds and beasts were then paraded in a performance of Biber’s humorous Sonata violin solo representative. Extended techniques which exhibited the diverse instrumental timbres of each period instrument in the ensemble were adeptly executed to imitate creatures such as a nightingale, cuckoo, frog, hen, quail, and perhaps most amusingly, a meowing cat evoked by simultaneously dissonant violin slides. The baroque violin playing of Shane Lestideau and Ben Dollman was full of zeal and tonal sensitivity throughout the concert, capturing the spirit of folk music with whimsical charm.
Particular highlights of the program were the ensemble’s poignant performances of traditional Scottish tunes, The Seal Woman’s Sea-Joy — based on a Nordic legend — and Phililiu. Legendary scenes were evoked most fittingly in the organic acoustics of the Salon with singing and percussive instrumental effects.
Rounding off the concert with innovative interpretations of canonical repertoire were the ensemble’s performance of Saint-Saëns’ Le Cygne (‘The Swan’) and an abridged version of Vivaldi’s ‘Cuckoo’ Violin Concerto, Op. 6. Natasha Kraemer’s sensitive baroque cello solo accompanied by Nicholas Pollock’s gentle ripples on the theorbo in Le Cygne was a refreshing take on the romantic classic, revealing the undecorated beauty of a piece typically heard with an abundant use of vibrato in the Romantic style. The ensemble’s unique take on Vivaldi’s concerto was imbued with their remarkable flair for crossing genres and performance styles, once again incorporating a range of animal noises as a final salute to the concert theme.