An exquisite journey to foreign lands

27 August 2023

Two of WA’s finest musical ensembles join forces for an attractive Baroque program. Will Yeoman is enlightened.  

The Giovanni Consort with Australian Baroque 
St Andrew’s, 26 August 2023 

Imagine an exhibition of rare vases from the Ming Dynasty in a suburban gallery. The place is familiar, reassuring. The objects are exquisite, but foreign, remote, separated from their cultural and social moorings. 

That’s what this Saturday night concert is like: a suburban church filled with exquisite music from a place and time which, no matter how much research one does or how many times one has heard or performed the works, will remain forever inaccessible to us. The past is indeed a foreign country. 

There is of course, for some, the shared Christian heritage of the Bible and the liturgy, in this case Catholic and Protestant. For those lucky souls, the words and their message will indeed be familiar, reassuring. There is also a shared musical language, which defines music today, in any genre. 

Yet none of this will have meant the same to, or had the same effect on, a person living in the 17th century. So the only valid response for us, as audience members, is an aesthetic one. We marvel at the sheer beauty of the music, and at the ability of the performers to bring it to life, in this case in repertoire both familiar and unfamiliar. 

Giovanni Consort director Kate McNamara conducts with a clear, expansive style. Photo supplied

The centrepiece is JS Bach’s church cantata BWV150, Nach dir, Herr, verlanget mich (“For Thee, O Lord, I long”). Around this centre swirls vocal and instrumental works by Caterina Assandra (1590-1618), Chiara Margarita Cozzolani (1602-c.1676), Isabella Leonarda (1620-1704), Tarquinio Merula (1595-1665) and Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643). 

There is the intimate style of Assandra’s motets. The larger scale works of Cozzolani and Monteverdi. The chamber music of Leonarda and Merula. Bach’s complex cantata, but also his motet Ich lasse dich nicht (“I will not let you go”). 

Giovanni Consort director Kate McNamara conducts with a clear, expansive style, the nuances of which are not visible to the audience but evident in the performance. The Consort, despite sounding under-rehearsed at times, clearly relishes the music and is especially impressive in the resounding tutti passages of the Bach cantata and Cozzolani’s Laetatus Sum (“I was Glad”). 

Australian Baroque violinists Helen Kruger and Sarah Papadopoulos, together with organist Stewart Smith and cellist Noeleen Wright (both on continuo duty), lend great style, clarity and colour to the proceedings throughout. 

As with any exhibition of rare and foreign objects, we emerge from this enjoyable concert to see our familiar world with fresh eyes. And we are grateful. 

The Giovanni Consort’s next concert, Noel, is at St Mary’s, South Perth, on 20 December 2023. 

Australian Baroque perform Space Music as part of the AWESOME Festival on 28-29 September 2023. 

Pictured top: Australian Baroque violinist Helen Kruger with members of the Giovanni Consort. Photo supplied

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Author —
Will Yeoman

Will Yeoman was literary editor at The West Australian before moving into arts and travel, and is now CEO of Writing WA, as well as artistic director of York Festival. Previously he was artistic director of New Norcia Writers Festival and Perth Festival Writers Week. He is a regular music critic for Limelight and Gramophone magazines and a keen classical guitarist who enjoys collaborating on spoken word and music performances. He favours the flying fox.

Past Articles

  • Big Apple spin gives opera bite

    Freeze Frame Opera has done it again, delivering a wildly inventive take on a classic that deserves to be better known. Will Yeoman heads to Broadway. 

  • A curious musical adventure

    WAAPA provides a rare opportunity to hear the work of women composers from across the centuries. Will Yeoman is captivated.

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