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Reviews/Music

Baroque festivities full of surprises

7 December 2020

In the second concert since their sold-out launch, Perth’s newest Baroque ensemble imbues Christmas spirit into a surprisingly wide range of musical repertoire.

HIP Company, ‘Christmas with HIP Company’  ·
Christ Church Claremont, 4 December 2020  ·

For those not in the know, HIP means (among other things) historically informed performance, and HIP Company is yet another (not that there can be too many) Perth group specialising in Baroque music played on period instruments. The main proponents are soprano Bonnie de la Hunty, Sarah Papadopoulos (Baroque violin) and Krista Low (Baroque cello). On this occasion they were joined by guest artists Eliza McCracken (violin) and Aidan Deasy (lute).

While the musical forces were small and the audience restricted in size, the concert itself seemed spacious, embracing a large swathe of Baroque repertoire plus music from the 12th century to 1944. Every individual player had the chance to make their mark, both in the music and introductions to different items on the program.

De la Hunty made a spectacular start, her unaccompanied voice preceding her from the porch of the church in a divine rendition of Hildegarde of Bingen’s 12th century address to the Virgin Mary, ‘O viridissima virga’. Her well-supported, pure tone carried off this challenging piece, with a segue into the lute ritornello of the next piece as she progressed down the aisle to emerge in a glittering green gown. She then embarked on the ‘Wexford Carol’, thought to be as old as the first number, sung in Gaelic then English. Another carol followed, ‘While shepherds watched their flocks’, emanating from the Baroque era. Both the two last pieces demonstrated de la Hunty’s excellent diction and vocal articulation, and her voice acquired a nice warm bloom as she warmed up.

We were then regaled with a work from the high Baroque, Handel’s Passacaglia from the Trio Sonata in G major (Op 5 No 4, HWV 399).  I would normally expect a keyboard in the basso continuo, but the combination of two violins, cello and lute worked well, especially with regard to the transparency of the voices, and the virtuosity of the cello. ‘Rejoice’ from Handel’s Messiah was delivered with joy, conviction and accurate coloratura, followed by the 16th century ‘Es ist ein Ros’ entsprungen’, again nicely presented, sweet and simple.

A solo performance by Papadopoulos of Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber’s monumental Passacaglia from his 17th century Rosary (or Mystery) Sonatas was carried out with great attack and virtuosity. A gentler Italian Baroque piece followed, Tarquinio Merula’s ‘Hor ch’è tempo di dormire’, in which an apparently unfettered soprano voice soars above a simple but mesmeric bass ostinato. A song from the 19th century by Stephen Foster, ‘Slumber my darling’, managed to fit into the mood nicely.

The final bracket included Corelli’s Trio Sonata Op 1 No 1 in F major with an increasingly exaggerated dialogue played out between the two violins and cello, some finely wrought coloratura singing in Monteverdi’s motet ‘Laudate Dominum in sanctis eius’ and a Mexican Baroque Christmas piece by Juan Garcia de Zespédes, ‘Convidando está la noche’ which introduced a tambourine and mini-maracas. 

The audience were clearly delighted to hear that the HIP Company will be releasing a CD recording next year.  One hopes it will be as expansive and surprising as this concert.

Pictured top: L-R: Sarah Papadopoulos, Eliza McCracken, Aiden Deasy, Krista Low and Bonnie de la Hunty. Photo supplied.

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Author —
Sandra Bowdler

Sandra Bowdler is an archaeologist who has been writing about music for some twenty years, most recently for Opera magazine (UK), Bachtrack and Handel News. She is also the author of “Handel’s Operas in Australia, a performance history” Händel Jarhbuch (2017). Her favourite piece of playground equipment would be the picnic bench with smoked salmon sandwiches and champagne.

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