The Birch Tree is the name of a Russian folk song which embodies the theme of growth and formed the theme for all the works in this concert by Thoroughbass inspired by folk song.
We began with the delicate and gentle sounds of the viola da gamba (Shaun Ng) and tenor recorder (Joanne Arnott) contrasted with the more percussive sounds of Diana Weston’s rich harpsichord in a charming setting by the Brisbane composer Mary Mageau of Scarborough Fair. Later in the program they played another set of variations on Greensleeves also by Mageau. Presented initially unaccompanied on the recorder, the melody was passed amongst the instruments with lovely countermelodies from Arnott and “leaning” expression from Ng that the gamba does so well. A solo verse from the harpsichord was also impressive.
We were then treated to selections of Bartók, For Children/Hungarian and Slovakian (Béla Bartók arr. Weston) – two series of short pieces and all folk-song based as is much of Bartók’s music. Weston’s arrangements for harpsichord and cello (Angus Ryan) added an interesting dimension to the works originally for piano, and her accurate playing and musicianship formed the backbone of this arrangement Slovakian folk song arrangements presented later in the concert alternated mournful minor melodies with lively dance tunes. All short and sweet as is often Bartók’s want; why do two verses when you can do one?
Suite for Diana performed by Diana barefoot with genuine intaimacy
Suite for Diana (Ann Carr-Boyd) for solo harpsichord was commissioned by and dedicated to Thoroughbass director Diane Weston and sets folk songs. It is interesting to hear music by this composer written specifically for harpsichord. It has a character quite unlike her other music, especially as the harpsichord is such an “exact” instrument. Weston is of course right at home here, sitting barefoot at her warm sounding instrument with genuine intimacy in her performance. In Playera (Pablo de Sarasate, arr, Weston), Weston was joined by cello again, this time played by Lucy Cormack who plays with full vibrato and throws herself with earnest gusto into the Spanish music.
Cormak and Weston then played The Birch Tree by Elena Kats-Chernin, one of my favourite composers. There is nearly always fun and humour implicit in Kats-Chernin’s music. This namesake of the concert is based on a Russian folk song Kats-Chernin learnt as a child which tells of using branches of the birch tree to make flutes and a balalaika. Invierno Porteño (Astor Piazzola, arr. Weston) was played on harpsichord, cello (Cormak), Gamba and treble recorder. This passionate piece works a little strangely on early instruments although Piazzola also uses unisons to very powerful effect. I have attended quite a few of Thoroughbass’ concerts now and I am always impressed by their interesting and innovative programming. There are always surprises and challenges for the listener.