Van Diemen’s Band: La Danza

University of Western Australia Calloway Auditorium

Review: Sandra Bowdler

Van Diemen’s Band concluded its first national tour on the 16th October with a concert at the WA Academy of Performing Arts. The ensemble is the brainchild of violinist Julia Freddersdorff, now resident in Hobart and is dedicated to performing music from the 17th and 18th centuries on period instruments. The composition of the group is flexible; on this occasion it comprised violinists Freddersdorff and Lucinda Moon alternating as leaders, Katie Yip on viola and Natasha Kraemer on cello.  It also featured two guest soloists, Perth expatriate cellist Catherine Jones and William Carter playing guitar and theorbo. Called La Danza, the show comprised various works with movements or themes based on dances, or dance-like music, spanning over 100 years from the late 17th to the late 18th centuries.

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Catherine Jones, cellist in Van Diemen’s Band

The concert began and ended with works by Luigi Boccherini, an Italian composer who spent much of his life in Spain. Despite being born in 1743 at the very end of the Baroque era, his style retains elements of that period, often attributed to his living rather outside the metropolitan centres of contemporary music. The first work on offer was his Fandango Quintet (Quintet for guitar & strings in D major G. 448), led by Moon.  The first movement is a gently flowing Pastorale, with prominent guitar and sonorous cello (Jones), followed by an energetic Allegro maestoso featuring a very high pitched cello to the point of emulating bat squeaks.  The Grave assai was equally quirky, with short  bursts of virtuosic demands on the guitar and the cello.  The concluding Fandango provided the dance with a noisy finale involving all the instruments, including car keys masquerading as castanets.

The Vivaldi Cello Concerto in A minor (RV418) from the high Baroque, led by Freddersdorff and with Carter swapping his guitar for a theorbo, was far more conventional and typically Vivaldian as far as the first and third Allegro movements went and were played with the requisite attack and virtuosity. But the intermediary Largo seemed to come from another universe, sounding almost dissonant at times.

Carter returned to his guitar for a solo performance of a suite comprising selections from Spanish composer Gaspar Sanz’s 1674 Instrucción de música sobre la guitarra Española.  These were a series of dance movements with Carter segueing seamlessly from one to another.  His intricate fingering drew forth from his relatively tiny instrument a marvellous variety of rhythms and colours.

Nicola Fiorenza, a lesser known Baroque composer, provided the penultimate work, a Cello Concerto in F from 1728, which again allowed Jones to display her complete mastery of the instrument. Jones touchingly dedicated this performance to her recently deceased mother. The concerto is rather eccentrically structured, with a short fast opening followed in rapid succession by a Largo and Grave of melancholy flavour. A sunnier Allegro contains a rich undertone from the theorbo, an expressive Largo allowed the cello full flower with a continuo of plucking, and the final Allegro was again lighter and brighter finishing with a warm cadenza for the cello with a drone background from the second cello. This was received with very warm applause.

The final work was the final movement from Boccherini’s La musica notrunra della strade di Madrid, “La Ritirata di Madrid”, which follows the movement of the night watch from the edge of town, advancing to the sound spot occupied by the audience, and retreating again into the distance. The soundscape was excellently created through the dynamics of the playing, involving fluid guitar passages and a violin solo (Moon). This light-hearted finale was an effective conclusion to the evening, leaving one to reflect on the ability of a small but brilliant group to evoke a kaleidoscope of moods and textures related to the concept of the dance.