Musica Viva Tasmania opened its 2019 season in Hobart with a concert of early Baroque music performed by Van Diemen’s Band. The intimate and ornate beauty of the Hobart Town Hall was a perfect venue for a concert that Julia Fredersdorff described as a re-creation of the Abendmusik (evening music) concerts of the 17th and 18th centuries. Bach is reputed to have walked more than 400km to hear these concerts, and on the evidence of Thursday evening I can see why.
Taken as a whole, the concert was a sort of extended crescendo. Beginning with the quiet, gentle reflectiveness of Becker’s Paduan, the music slowly grew in intensity until the explosion of fireworks in the extraordinary Sonata Jucunda in D (attributed to Biber or Schmelzer). As the intensity grew, so did the polish of the performances. Bass-baritone Thomas Flint brought a profound solemnity and a feeling of real religious devotion to the 17th century sacred works that comprised most of the programme. His voice has a quality, hard to define in mere words, that seems to emanate directly from the soul.
In her program notes, Fredersdorff mentions the wide range of emotions found within the music, particularly in the Schmelzer works. The ensemble did wonderful justice to these, moving from lament to humour and virtuosity with unanimity, creating a kaleidoscope of emotions that tugged the heartstrings. I particularly loved the way in which unexpected flashes of brilliance from the first violin would emerge from the texture for a moment of stardom, and then retreat discreetly back into the ensemble.
The highlight for me – and everyone else, judging by the conversations I overheard – was the Sonata Jucunda in D. The gasps from the audience said it all, as the music became ever more dramatic and the harmonies ever more progressive. The ensemble played this piece with such conviction, not holding back from the extremes of expression and revelling in the modernity of the writing. Proof, should it be needed, that music truly does transcend time and space.