Vine Music supports smaller ensembles that often struggle to break into the consciousness of the music loving public who have a plethora of concerts to choose from every night of the week. These ensembles play to small audiences in galleries, churches, and the like. But therein lies their great appeal. There is a growing interest in ‘historically informed playing’ – performing on original or copies of baroque or early classical instruments, employing playing techniques specific to the period, and dealing with the vagaries of gut strings in the Sydney climate. The music of these earlier periods was often composed for small audiences who gathered in salons, private homes, or coffee houses. There is something particularly appealing about sitting so close to musicians you can almost read the music over their shoulder.
A rich and intimate music experience
Friday night’s concert was intended to showcase the brilliance of Amsterdam-based traverso player Joao Carlos Santos but a last minute visa glitch forced his cancelation. Mikaela Oberg capably stepped into his place and joined Rafael Font-Viera (violin) Anita Gluyas (cello) and Anthony Abouhamad (harpsichord). All four players are members of the exciting recently-formed ensemble The Muffat Collective, and bring a wealth of experience and skill in early music. Although audience numbers were disappointingly low, thanks probably to poor weather and the VIVID Festival, the upside was we moved our chairs into a couple of rows in a semicircle around the musicians and enjoyed a rich and intimate music experience.
The title of the program was In Three Parts. We began in the city of Leipzig with JS Bach, moved to the French Court of Louis XIV where Marin Marais was located, and closed in the Berlin Court of Frederick the Great with CPE Bach. In addition, the three compositions share a common feature – a compositional technique that favours a three-part texture.
Mikaela Oberg demonstrated great skill
The program opened with Mikaela Oberg and Anthony Abouhamad performing JS Bach’s Sonata for Flute and Harpsichord in B minor, written some time in the 1730s when Bach directed the Collegium Musicum in Leipgzig. He frequently included his children as performers and this sonata may have been written for his teenage son Johann Gottfried Bernhard Bach, a gifted flute player. There is a great deal of interplay between the two instruments, and in fact it is in ‘three parts’ (as Abouhamad joked) because the fugue is written for keyboard right hand, keyboard left hand, and flute. The first movement is quite complex, and the players communicated a sense of joy as well as reflection. The slower second movement was marked by controlled and expressive playing by Mikaela Oberg who demonstrated great skill in her performance of what many consider is the greatest and most difficult of Bach’s flute compositions.
Elegant and refined performance
The second piece, from Marin Marais’ 1692 Pieces en Trio, took us to France and the Court of Louis XIV where Marais spent many years. Marais is often associated with music for the viol, for which he produced literally hundreds of compositions, but his Pieces en Trio was the first published set of trio sonatas in France. Rafael Font (violin) and Anita Gluyas (cello) teamed with the flute and harpsichord to play a selection of 10 of his Pieces, ranging from preludes and fugues, to chaconnes and other dances with their typical lilting French rhythm. It was easy to close my eyes and see the ladies and gentlemen of the court dancing in stately slow motion to the music. These short compositions were played with great elegance and refinement, all four instruments beautifully in balance and making technically challenging music sound easy.
Mikaela Oberg played with great expressiveness
The evening closed in the free city of Leipzig listening to another Bach, this time the innovative CPE Bach who stepped out of the box of the traditional baroque form and whose musical style is totally different from Marais and JS Bach. All four musicians performed his Trio in A major (clearly ‘trio’ doesn’t always mean three players!). Here is broad sweeping music incorporating fugues and unusual harmonies, with intricate interaction between instruments – a piece quite unlike the earlier two works we had heard. Oberg played the slow second movement with great expressiveness – perhaps the flute-playing King Frederick had himself performed it in his Court one evening (though surely not as exquisitely). CPE Bach wanted his music to ‘touch the heart’ and certainly the ensemble achieved this.
A wonderful chamber music experience
A delightful feature of Vine Music events is the wonderful local wines and cheeses available for a small donation – there truly is nothing like listening to some of the best players in town performing chamber music in an intimate setting, while enjoying a glass of red!