Good Taste in the Art of Musick: Geminiani at St Paul’s Lutheran

Songs and sonatas from Scotland, by Geminiani

Musica Lyrica: Dougals Mews, Rowena Simpson, Kamala Bain, Brendan O’Donnell, Shelley Wilkinson, Peter Walls, Ann Goodbehere

St Paul’s Lutheran Church, King Street, Mount Cook 

Sunday 29 August 5pm

This concert was advertised as part of St Paul’s Lutheran Church’s regular concerts, many of them associated with the church’s normal vespers services, when Bach cantatas, eventually all of them, are performed.

But this was different.

Peter Walls (in other lives, Professor of Music at Victoria University and now CEO of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra) had talked during the week on RNZ Concert’s Upbeat, and in his introduction to the concert, about its nature and aim, offering interesting bits of scholarship about violin practice as well as about the byways of music in 18th century Britain.

The great Italian violinist and composer, Geminiani, a leading pupil of Corelli, had moved to London in 1714 and developed an interest in Scottish folk music. As well as his treatise on violin playing, which gave its name to this concert, he collected a large number of folk songs in a volume called Orpheus Caledoniensis.

But before the concert could start, cellist Emma Goodbehere, had a mishap with her baroque cello, damaging the finger board, and she had to withdraw from the performance. It left a number of the songs and instrumental pieces short of bass substance, and caused the dropping of the Cello Sonata, Op 5 No 2, which would have been the major instrumental piece.

But the rest of the concert was pure delight. Soprano Rowena Simpson took all the song parts, and she decorated her lines with the most natural sounding ornaments as her voice proved an idiomatic vehicle for these fresh and melodic songs. They made it easy to understand how the folk songs of Scotland later became such hot property, encouraging publishers to commission composers like Haydn and Beethoven to make arrangements of them. 

Typically, the song was performed first, and then followed by a sonata based on it, using Peter Walls and Shelley Wilkinson on violins, or treble recorders* (Kamala Bain and Brendan O’Donnell) plus a continuo that was provided by Douglas Mews at the harpsichord and Ann Goodbehere on the viola.

Kamal Bain played a descant recorder* with  a couple of items and these were quite disarming, especially for one who has never felt very drawn to the instrument.  Her playing was fluent and utterly charming; without too much effort the sound of the bagpipe could be imagined.

The last of the Sonatas, based on ‘The last Time I came o’er the Moor’ used the two violins which elaborated on the song even more that the voice itself had, and it ended with a postlude the led to a graceful slow dance.

Bear these concerts in mind for a late Sunday afternoon: the standard of music making is very high.

*We had the sizes of the recorders wrong in the original review. The sizes here are now correct (L.T. 3.09.10)

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