Latitude 37 is an exciting new baroque trio comprising some of the top recent graduates of the Royal Conservatory in The Hague who bring vitality, creativity and expressivity to their performances.
New Zealand harpsichordist Donald Nicholson and Australians Julia Fredersdorff (baroque violin) and Laura Vaughan (viola de gamba) each have considerable talents, high artistic aim and technique to burn. Having carved out successful careers as both soloists and members of some of the finest ensembles they come together to present a programme that takes a journey through Europe to discover the brilliance of the Baroque, including the elegance of Marais and Rameau in Louis XIV’s Court of Versailles and Buxtehudes’ contrasting colours and violent musical mood-swings.
Sunday 03 May 2009 - Ilott Theatre, Wellington Town Hall
Season 2009, Sunday 03 May - Latitude 37
A true trans-Tasman amalgam of diverse and sharply-focused talents, Latitude 37 is a newly-formed baroque trio consisting of a New Zealander, Donald Nicolson, and two Australians, Julia Fredersdorff and Laura Vaughan. All are graduates of the Royal Conservatorium in The Hague, and have come together as a group united by a passionate interest in 17th and 18th Century music, and a desire to perform the repertoire of those periods in a vital and historically-informed way.
Their Wellington concert at the Ilott Theatre on a Sunday afternoon at the very beginning of May 2009 drew an appreciative, if not over-large audience that warmed to the skills and sensibilities of a group of musicians obviously very much in love with the old-world glories and intricacies of the music they were playing. Those of us who, while admiring the range and depth of musical scholarship of the ‘authentic performance’ brigade find it sometimes difficult to come to terms with more extreme purist practices, were charmed to encounter a stylish ‘period performance’ group whose sound was warm, whose tempi were relaxed and flexible, and whose overall presentation was articulate and musical.
Donald Nicolson’s programme notes talked about the necessity for Baroque music ‘not only to please the ear, but to express the sentiments, strike the imagination and command the passions’. Each of the composers represented in the concert played their part in forwarding the ideals of this new expressive age of music, the correlation with the Portuguese word barroco (irregular-shaped pearl) beautifully underlined via the music we heard – by turns, elegant, shapely, expressive, involving, and unpredictable. Dietrich Buxtehude, famous as the organist whom Bach travelled many miles on foot to hear play, wrote several Trio Sonatas whose qualities exemplify this juxtapositioning of the structured and the free.
Latitude 37 realised all the Op 1 Sonata’s delicacy and volatility, the expressive range of the playing from all instrumentalists a joy to experience. Jean-Marie Leclair, writing nearly a century later in France, brought his virtuoso violinist’s skills to bear on his Trio Sonatas, the players bringing out the music’s wonderfully infectious rhythmic flair by allowing the allegros just enough “girth” to give the music real substance. Just occasionally in this work I wanted to hear a little more tone from the viola da gamba, more full throatedness and less circumspection.
Donald Nicolson gave us a piece for solo harpsichord by Couperin- Le-Grand, the well-known ‘Le Tic-Toc-Choc’, all rhythm and subtle variation, from which mesmeric conjurings we entered the world of ‘La Folia’, or ‘Follia’, through the famous set of variations by Arcangelo Corelli (with chord progressions not dissimilar in effect to the twentieth-century’s 12-bar blues structure). The music explores many characterful aspects, magisterial and imposing at the start, urgent and subversive in its rapid-fire exchanges between instruments, and with moments of great piquancy (even a pizzicato variation for solo viola da gamba) set against rich, in places sombre-leaning hues. Authoritative, full-blooded playing
Frenchman Marin Marais’ music was given some prominence a few years ago by the 1991 film Tous les matins du monde, in which the work programmed here, ‘Sonnerie de Sainte-Geneviève du Mont de Paris’, was also played. A study in obsessiveness, the work takes a three-note church bell theme and fully explores its possibilities, to eccentric lengths, keeping the focus on the viol-like instrument throughout, even when accompanying the main tune. A couple of surprising ‘lurches’ into remote keys add to the general ethos of this strange work, brilliantly played by violist Laura Vaughan, with sterling support from her partners. Marais’s ‘Le Badinage’, which followed later in the half was a shorter, more sombre piece, one which suggested a melancholy, slightly troubled state, through ceaselessly moving decoration of the ground by the viola in its lower reaches, the occasional higher passage and more agitated episodes serving to tighten the music’s emotional state even further.
Dietrich Becker’s suite-like collection of dances explored slightly more conventional ground, with the performers realizing the marvellous changes in the opening from an introduction, through dance-like measures and then into a slower, more ritualistic and ceremonial mode. Subsequent variations on a ground drew more and more decoration as they progresses and stimulated some scintillating playing (both warmth and brilliance from Julia Fredersdorff’s violin, here). Becker’s fellow-countryman, Georg Phillipp Teleman, whose fame eclipsed that of the great Bach during his lifetime, contributed a Trio Sonata (described ‘as German as beer’ by Donald Nicolson!) whose delightfully contrasted episodes combined the elegance of courtly dance with a more wistful pastoral feeling, hugely enjoyed by the musicians, and by their audience. It was left to the great Jean-Philippe Rameau to conclude the concert with the third of his ‘Pièces de Clavecin en Concert’, pieces primarily for harpsichord, but with ‘accompaniments’ for violin and viola da gamba. Some of the pieces have titles, such as ‘La Timide’ and ‘La Popliniere’, but the music can express whatever fancy the listener conjures from the realms of imagination. This three-movement work concluded with a cheerful fairground-like piece, with suggestions of gypsy folk-fiddle influences, and the excitement of the dance carried over the last few bars to a mood of great exhilaration, an appropriate way to conclude a colourful and satisfying concert.
Peter Mechen, Sunday 03 May