January Diary

It’s a tale of two festivals, January.   I can’t find much else happening apart from the Peninsula Summer Music and Organs of the Ballarat Goldfields Festivals  –  veterans of previous years with varying standards of satisfaction and performance.  This year, fortunately, their timing barely overlaps although there is a bit of program carry-over from the peninsula to the country.

 

Monday January 2

CANTATE AMOROSE

Ensemble 624

Hurley Vineyard, Balnarring at 6 pm

This starts off the festival’s serious content in the Mornington Peninsula chain of small-scale events; well, that descriptor applies to just about the entire 11 days.   The hosts for this occasion – Ensemble 642 – here constitute Hannah Lane playing harps, and Nicholas Pollock on theorbo, lutes and guitar, with guest soprano Karen Fitz-Gibbon.  This trio combines to sing the lyrics of Barbara Strozzi, the iconic Baroque female composer and sonorous equivalent of Artemisia Gentileschi.   We’re promised arias and dances, which broaden the field as Strozzi wrote only vocal music.

 

Wednesday January 4

THE NOBLE PATRON

Acacia Quartet

Lindenderry, Red Hill at 5 pm

The only Acacias I’ve come across (I think) were a wind quintet some weeks ago. Here is a string quartet from Sydney which has performed previously at the Peninsula festival.  This time around, the group performs Beethoven’s Harp in E flat and the first of Haydn’s two Lobkowitz Op. 77 compositions, the one in G Major – written for the nobleman who would become one of Beethoven’s long-suffering patrons and who actually commissioned his Harp work.  They don’t come much nobler.

 

Thursday January 5

GLASS AT PORT PHILLIP

Acacia Quartet

Port Phillip Estate, Red Hill South at 6 pm

The Acacias are playing two works by Philip Glass – the 10-minute Quartet No. 2, Company (originally written for a dramatisation of Beckett’s novella),  and (double the length) the Quartet No. 7 which was composed for use by the Nederlands Dans Theater.  As well, we are promised music by Gershwin (Lullaby, you’d assume) and something from Nick Wales – presumably Harbour Light which, with the Glass No. 2 and  Gershwin’s bagatelle, featured in the Acacia’s Opera House recital last month.

 

Friday January 6

BEETHOVEN’S SCOTTISH SONGS

Elgee Park Gallery, Dromana at 5 pm

Assuming these are the 25 Songs of Op. 108, the number that can be programmed is plentiful; only five have to be omitted for practical reasons.  The original asks for solo voice, mixed chorus, violin. cello and piano.  The instruments are fine: Rachael Beesley at the top, Erin Helyard on keyboard, Natasha Kraemer spinning the bass line.  The one singer is British soprano/director Sophie Daneman.  So Nos. 1, 9, 13, 19 and 22 miss the bill as they involve two, three or four voices.  Some of the tunes are very familiar but the interest for me lies in the settings.

 

Saturday January 7

GREAT ROMANTICS

Kevin Suherman

Church of St. John the Evangelist, Flinders at 11 am

Recently, this young pianist won the Melbourne Recital Centre’s Great Romantics Competition, and here he is going to re-visit some of his repertoire.  The definites are Chopin’s Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise Brillante, and Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 – very voluble works for this small church.   Added to this,  there will be some unidentified Mendelssohn to round out the package.

 

Saturday January 7

A SCHUBERTIAN DELIGHT

David Greco and Erin Helyard

Church of St. John the Evangelist at 3 pm

The Australian baritone, back after spending 7 or 8 years in Europe, here collaborates with Helyard in Death and the Maiden, Im Fruhling and The Wanderer  .  .  .  among other lieder, you’d suppose.  The pair is presenting the program as something of a musicological exercise, employing performance tropes of the period – whatever they may be –  Helyard working through his accompaniments on a Graf piano.

 

Saturday January 7

BAROQUE OPERA GALA

Church of St. John the Evangelist, Flinders at 7 pm

We’ve got When I am laid from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, part of the same composer’s The Faerie Queen, Handel’s Lascia la spina from The Triumph of Time and Truth oratorio,a bit of Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo and some Vivaldi.  The performers are David Greco, mezzo Sally-Anne Russell, Ensemble 624 (see Monday January 2), and a Baroque string quartet headed by festival director/violinist Julie Fredersdorff, Lizzy Walsh playing second violin, Laura Vaughan on gamba and lirone, Natalie Kraemer again bringing up the cello rear.  The performance is to take place on the church lawn – not my favourite site but the organisers obviously feel that the open air caters best to their patrons’ passion for the unbuttoned.

 

Sunday January 8

DUO FRANCAIS

Lisa Stewart and Stefan Cassomenos

Church of St. John the Evangelist at 11 am

A violin/piano recital of three sonatas: Debussy in G minor, Ravel No. 2 in G Major and Messiaen’s early Theme and Variations – all of them written within a 15-year time bracket. Stewart, first desk in the Acacia Quartet, has been a regular collaborator with orchestras across the country.  Cassomenos has a name for taking up every challenge, although there’s not much here that raises the perspiration level.

 

Sunday January 8

DE PROFUNDIS

David Greco & Latitude 37

Church of St. John the Evangelist at 5 pm

The event takes its impetus from Nicolaus Bruhns’ setting of Psalm 130 – gloomy and ornate simultaneously.  Other works include Biber’s Nisi Dominus and other pieces by Buxtehude, Muffat and the organist predecessor of Bach, Franz Tunder.  The usual Latitude 37 members – Julie Fredersdorff, Laura Vaughan, Donald Nicholson – are assisted by Ensemble 642’s Hannah Lane on triple harp.    Nicholson abandons his usual harpsichord for the St. John’s organ.

 

Wednesday January 11

NOTTURNO

Hoang Pham Trio

Moorooduc Estate, Moorooduc at 5 pm

The well-known Melbourne pianist has acquired a violinist (Katherine Lukey)  and cellist (Paul Ghica) to form an ensemble that is presenting a chaste enough program.  Obviously, they begin with the delectable Schubert miniature of the program’s title, then proceed to the evening’s meat in Dvorak Op. 65 in F minor.   Both Lukey and Ghica have been heard recently in the Melbourne Chamber Orchestra; how they will combine with Pham is anyone’s guess, but hope springs eternal.

The program will be repeated at 7 pm.

 

Thursday January 12

TREASURES OF THE HIGH BAROQUE

Morning Star Estate, Mount Eliza at 7:30 pm

The draw-card here is Genevieve Lacey, bringing her recorders to bear on a program of Telemann, Bach and Handel.  She is joined by violinist Lars Ulrik Mortenson, artistic director of Concerto Copenhagen, and bassoonist Jane Gower of the same Danish ensemble,  the Academy of Ancient Music and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. With this rich expertise, here is one of the festival’s red-letter elements.

 

Friday January 13

ACIS AND GALATEA

Church of St. John the Evangelist, Flinders at 7:30 pm

Handel’s opera-of-sorts, in its generally practised form, has four main roles, as well as a chorus.  Sophie Daneman, who is singing some of Beethoven’s Scottish Songs on  Friday January 6, sang a solo role in the recording made of this work by Les Arts Florissants; she is stage director and singing coach for this open-air church lawn mounting of the work.  Donald Nicholson, the keyboard in Latitude 37, will be directing the music, which is supplied by the Festival Academy singers and instrumentalists who will have worked with assorted Baroque music experts in preparing this pastoral entertainment – hard to define as fish or fowl or good red oratorio.

This program is repeated on Saturday January 14 at 7:30 pm.

 

Friday January 13

HOMAGE A RAMEAU

Choir of Newman College

St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Ballarat at 7:30 pm

Newman College’s musical eminence, Gary Ekkel, is taking his singers and a baroque orchestra through a concert spirituel as it would have been done in the Tuileries about 1750. The night’s title has me perplexed, though; from my meagre research sources, I can’t see Rameau’s name featuring strongly among the composers performed at these concerts, originally held in Holy Week because every other entertainment venue was closed.  Still, it’s a homage and God knows his successors had a lot to thank the great man for.

 

Saturday January 14

ORGAN RECITAL

Giampaolo do Rosa

St. John’s Anglican Church, Creswick at 10 am

This musician from Rome, well-travelled through Italy and the Iberian peninsula, is playing Bach and Faure on the Creswick church’s Fincham and Hobday instrument of 1889.  The Bach could be anything but the Faure is a mystery; the only organ work I could find is an Ave Maria involving two sopranos.  Could be an arranged nocturne, barcarolle, or song.

The program will be repeated at 12 noon.

 

Saturday January 14

CLASSICAL GUITAR DUO

Slava and Leonard Grigoryan

Neil St. Uniting Church, Ballarat

The brothers are always worth hearing but there are no details available concerning their program.  Without any substantiation beyond a hunch, I think they could re-present their October program from the Melbourne Recital Centre which promoted a new CD.  This comprised arrangements by Grigoryan pere, Edward, of music by Elgar, Dvorak, Faure, Rachmaninov and Falla.  But then, this could all be nonsense and the brothers might be set to play anything from their expansive repertoire.

 

Saturday January 14

TRIOS – TELEMANN, HANDEL AND VIVALDI

Genevieve Lacey, Jane Gower, Lars Ulrik Mortenson

Mary’s Mount Centre, Ballarat at 8 pm

See Thursday January 12 above.

 

Sunday January 15

ACIS AND GALATEA

Mary’s Mount Centre, Ballarat at 3 pm

See Friday January 13 above.

 

Sunday January 15

RECITAL FOR ORGAN AND THREE TRUMPETS

Anthony Halliday, Joel Brennan, Mark Fitzpatrick, Yoram Levy

St Patrick’s Cathedral, Ballarat at 8 pm

The definite program elements are Britten’s 3-minute  Fanfare for St. Edmondsbury that doesn’t use Halliday’s organ, and a Telemann concerto for three trumpets.  For the rest, we are promised an acoustic exploration as the brass players move to different places in the cathedral.

 

Monday January 16

RECITAL FOR ORGAN AND TRUMPET

Rhys Boak and Bruno Siketa

St. John’s Anglican Church, Dunolly at 10 am.

Am assuming this will feature music played on the CD from Move Records that features these artists in collaboration.  See a review above – August 9 – headed What’s your fancy?

This program will be played again at 12 noon.

 

Monday January 16

ORGAN RECITAL

Rhys Boak

St Michael and All Angels, Talbot at 8 pm

A real curiosity.  The organ in this church has only been restored in 2016.  It’s the earliest still-functioning Fincham in Victoria; originally from Warnambool, later Hughesdale, it reached Talbot in 2007.  As for Boak’s program, it will be calculated to show the instrument to advantage: one manual with 8 stops, pedal bourdon and coupler.

 

Tuesday January 17

ORGAN RECITAL

Giampaolo di Rosa

St. Paul’s Anglican Church, Ballarat at 10 am

The overseas guest is set to work on the 1864 Walker organ.  He promises Bach’s Fantasia super: Komm, Heiliger Geist and the Schumann Fantasie on BACH, which I don’t think exists.   He might be playing the 6 Fugues on B-A-C-H; that would be a great move and very substantial: they last over half an hour.  Further, this church’s organ is one of Ballarat’s finest.

 

Tuesday January 17

BACH’S CIRCLE

Latitude 37

Ballarat Mining Exchange at 8 pm

The Peninsula Summer Music Festival’s artistic director/violinist, Julie Fredersdorff, and her ensemble partners  –  gamba Laura Vaughan and harpsichord Donald Nicholson  –  will perform Baroque trios by the great paterfamilias, Buxtehude, and their contemporaries. You’re assured of spiky, clean-voiced playing; these musicians have been working at their craft for quite a while now and I can’t think of another ensemble that comes near them in this area.

 

Wednesday January 18

HANDEL ORGAN CONCERTI

Giampaolo di Rosa

Former Wesley Methodist Church, Clunes at 11 am

All twelve of them?  Probably not.  Di Rosa plays with the Festival’s chamber orchestra, which appears at this event only.  The organ is another one that has roamed: Prahran, Daylesford and an interim stint in Bendigo before coming back to its Clunes home.  A small organ with one manual, pedals and 7 stops.  Which should be just right for these plain-speaking works.

 

Wednesday January 18

ORGAN AND BRASS ENSEMBLE

Giampaolo di Rosa and the Little Brass Band of Ballarat

St. Paul’s Anglican Church, Clunes at 2:30 pm

The program heading proposes Handel, Bach and Pachelbel – yes, the Canon in D, beloved of prospective brides.  Also in an afternoon of pops, we get Handel’s Water Music – but probably not all three suites – and Bach’s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring chorale movement.  For a mystery, the afternoon contains a concerto for brass quintet by Handel.  I know of a concerto for brass quartet, an arrangement by Gerard Schwarz of the Concerto Grosso in F, Op. 6 No.9.   Maybe that’s it; maybe there is another work altogether.

 

Wednesday January 18

Duo Chamber Melange

Wendouree Centre for Performing Art at 8 pm.

Violinist Ivana Tomaskova and pianist Tamara Smolyar are playing Schumann’s Violin Sonata No. 1, Beethoven’s Eroica Sonata (which seemingly refers to the Violin Sonata No. 7 in C minor) and a work by Rumanian composer, Mihail Andricu.  These musicians have been working together for over a decade and their approach is solid, based on sound European scholarship and technique.

 

Thursday January 19

SOPRANO AND ORGAN

Larissa Cairns and Christopher Trikilis

Carngham Uniting Church, Snake Valley at 10 am

Cairns I last heard of in Anthony Way’s choir for St. Francis’ Church in Lonsdale St.  Trikilis is spreading himself between music director functions at St. Patrick’s, Mentone, teaching at St. Kevin’s College, Toorak and tutoring for the Corpus Christi Seminary, Carlton.  The small Fincham instrument in this church doesn’t offer much timbral variety so this morning’s program will test Trikilis’ inventiveness.

The program will be repeated at 12 noon.

 

Thursday January 19

VIRTUOSO ORGAN

Giampaolo di Rosa

Ballarat Central Uniting Church at 8 pm

A well-exercised guest, di Rosa is playing Liszt  –  don’t know what but we can only hope for the Ad nos, ad salutarem undam Fantasia and Fugue – and an improvisation, at which occupation he has a considerable reputation.  This is his last – and fifth – Festival appearance.

 

Friday January 20

SCARLATTI ESSERCIZI

Jacqueline Ogeil

Loreto Chapel, Ballarat at 12 noon.

The Woodend Festival director presents some – one expects – of the Italian composer’s 30 sonatas published as exercises.  As the works were written for a Cristofori piano, Ogeil is upping the musicological ante by performing on a copy of that instrument.  You can expect highly authoritative interpretations, Ogeil’s experience with this composer going back many years.

 

Saturday January 21

RECITAL FOR ORGAN AND FLUTE

Frank de Rosso and Brighid Mantelli

St. Alipius’ Church, Ballarat East at 11 am

Prior to presenting this program in Queenscliff, Mantelli and de Rosso – two Geelong-district musicians – are giving it an airing here.  There is no indication of what is being played, but the flute/organ repertoire is pretty slim, I think.  So, either lots of arrangements or a welter of freshly written compositions.

 

Saturday January 21

TONY FENELON PLAYS THE COMPTON THEATRE ORGAN

Her Majesty’s Theatre, Ballarat at 3 pm

For my generation – and probably a few after that – Tony Fenelon is Mr. Theatre Organ Australia, the master of all those Wurlitzer special effects and a ceaseless pedal line.  On this occasion, he is including accompaniments to some short silent classics, which may be screened simultaneously with their scores.  A chance for many of us to hear this instrument which I, for one, didn’t even know existed.

 

Saturday January 21

CONCERTI

Hoang Pham, piano, and Massimo Scattolin, guitar

Her Majesty’s Theatre, Ballarat at 8 pm

This event sees the launch of the Melbourne Orchestra, under the direction of Mark Shiell, conductor of the Zelman and Ballarat Orchestras as well as the Macquarie Philharmonia. Pham is soloist in the Chopin Concerto No. 1 in E minor; admittedly, the orchestra is not over-stressed by the work but Pham will be tested throughout this spotlighting score. Scattolin, a regular at this festival, fronts Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez, the guitar concerto.

 

Sunday January 22

THE AGONY OF HELL AND THE PEACE OF SOUL

e21, Unholy Rackett, Melbourne Baroque Orchestra

St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Ballarat at 8 pm

Stephen Grant takes his e21 ensemble and a combination of instrumentalists through works by Schutz, Gabrieli and Monteverdi.  The night’s title is suggestive enough, if a tad ungrammatical; without any details, you’d have to guess that the music will illustrate spiritual and theological opposites.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An unexpected Santa’s breakfast

NOEL! NOEL!

Australian Brandenburg Orchestra

Melbourne Recital Centre

Saturday December 10

madison-nonoa

                                                                              Madison Nonoa

Each year, Paul Dyer and his Brandenburg Orchestra and Choir mount a Christmas program that serves as a kind of intellectually regulated Carols by Candlelight, an event where the current season is paid its dues through familiar tunes and words, as well as some almost-explicable  ring-ins that carry referential overtones.  And this time round, we got to hear some scraps that had absolutely no relevance to this celebratory fortnight at all, hiatus points where the lethargic among us are tempted to slump back and just let the sounds of this inescapably anodyne music creep in our ears.

With no attempt to engage the audience in sing-alongs, the ABO forces saluted general expectations with three verses only of  Once in royal David’s city, led by soprano soloist Madison Nonoa; O little town of Bethlehem from trumpets and sackbuts with percussion trimming; the Coventry Carol, again featuring Nonoa with both melody and descant; God rest you merry, gentlemen not living up to its name with some wayward trumpet articulation; a straight Hark! the herald angels sing; a bi-lingual Silent night, where Tommie Andersson’s guitar reminded us of the work’s original form; and a rousing O come, all ye faithful that avoided the usual fortissimo bursts whenever the line O come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord! occurs.

So far, so fine – just what you’d expect to hear in any church lucky enough to have a choir at this time of year.  Surrounding these regulars came a grab-bag of works that surprised but didn’t startle.  For example, the ABO Choir began the evening with Praetorius’ arrangement of Nicolai’s Wachet auf!, performed a cappella and very impressive in its English garb.  I can’t remember from other years the group’s altos all being male, but the body sings here so rarely that it might have been the case on previous occasions; the texture they generate is an oddly unsettling one in lucid writing like this, suggestive of Anglican cathedral choir-stalls, if tempered by the presence of female sopranos.   Vavilov’s pseudo-Caccini Ave Maria gave Nonoa her first solo on the program: an inane lyric carried off effectively with organ underpinning, some vocalising from the choir and a liberal dose of sonic confectionery supplied by Brian Nixon’s chimes.

The Kyrie section of Ola Gjeilo’s Sunrise Mass for divisi SATB moves slowly enough in the best Scandinavian/Baltic spiritualist style, its subtitle of The Spheres giving some clue to its inspiration, suggesting the quieter moments in Ligeti’s 2001: A Space Odyssey music.  In realising this score, I think the ABO singers could have taken a more slow tempo, especially across its outer pages, although in the Murdoch Hall any group would find it hard constructing the ethereal bands of disembodied overlapping chords that the composer has made his basic constructional implement.

Eriks Esenvalds’ O salutaris hostia paired Nonoa with an anonymous ABO soprano for the Latvian composer’s amiably euphonious setting of Aquinas’ moving hymn while the 8-part choir worked with a touch too much insistence through their chordal setting of the text as underpinning.  It’s an attractive post-Bernstein Mass creation, the choral numbers here available probably insufficient to do it justice, especially when Esenvalds calls for more sopranos to take up the top lines at the opening to the second verse.   While the program notes gave a fair sense of the text, the final line’s interpretation would have astounded Hilaire Belloc, who couldn’t hear its plea without weeping.   As for the statement that this hymn is used at the Mass’s Consecration, I’ve never heard it in that position but only as the opening step in the odd ritual of Benediction (of the Blessed Sacrament).

Adam’s Cantique de Noel enjoyed a richly resonant treatment.  Nonoa sang the two verses of the original text by Placide Cappeau while the ABO Choir gave her a lush chordal backdrop.  So did the instrumentalists, the trio of sackbuts generating an opulent bass-heavy texture.   After over-much exposure, I can take or leave Amazing Grace; the hymn is trotted out at all sorts of events, public and private, to the point where its gentle lilt has been subjected to as many variants as the American national anthem has suffered in that nation’s sporting arenas.  Nonoa gave it a simple expressiveness over tremolo violins, then with added sackbuts, then with the choir providing their supplementary input – no surprises or whipped-up dynamics, for which relief much thanks.

Alongside these samples of religious music, we heard some strange oddments.  The opening Allegro to Vivaldi’s Concerto for Two Trumpets in C is festive in character, I suppose, but the performance on natural instruments was marred by too many bloopers. An anonymous 17th century Sonata a 9 smacked of Venice, but so do an awful lot of compositions from that time involving brass and strings.  It remains unclear what the band was attempting with Rittler’s Ciacona a 7.  The two violins, Matt Bruce and Ben Dollman, and viola Monique O’Dea started wandering round the stage, apparently improvising above the ground bass, but their efforts did not meet with happy rewards. Fortunately, the entry of the brass forces pushed matters back into a sensible mould.

What Con que la lavare by Luis de Narvaez had to do with anything remains a mystery; if nothing else,  it offered a space for Nonoa to display her talent at Renaissance affects, foregrounded by a profusion of supporting musicians, the richest I’ve heard in association with this plaintive cancion  –  theorbo, harpsichord, organ and strings.  For The Luckiest by Ben Folds, the choir sang a cappella with a modest tenor soloist calmly coursing through the song’s unremarkable verses with a telling detachment that suited the work’s character admirably.

This concert began 15 minutes late because the orchestra’s transportation had proved unreliable.   Even so, the program itself, including Dyer’s inevitable address substituting gush for content, lasted an interval-less 75 minutes or so.

You can’t come along to a Noel! Noel! concert expecting to experience the musicological revelations that you find at an Ensemble Gombert Christmas to Candlemas recital. Furthermore,  the ABO organization, like those who sponsor the Bowl and Domain extravaganzas, spreads a pretty wide net to satisfy its intentions of diverting and entertaining.  But this excellent group of performers, even in a reduced-numbers chamber format, has a wealth of material to draw on, with no need for stocking fillers or costume padding.

 

 

 

Confidence, with personality

THE PIANO IN ARCADIA

Arcadia Quintet

Melbourne Recital Centre

Monday December 1

arcadia             (L to R) Matthew Kneale, Kiran Phatak, David Reichelt, Lloyd Van’t Hoff,  Rachel Shaw

As you can tell from the photo, the Arcadians are a wind quintet. now three years old, comprising graduates of the Australian National Academy of Music.  For this recital, part of the Recital Centre’s Spotlight series, the ensemble hosted pianist Peter de Jager who not only played in all four works programmed, but also wrote one of them.   With the enthusiasm of youth, these combined forces gave value for money, their event going some 20 minutes overtime.  I suppose that it would have been hard to cut back on anything, although the opening piece stuck out from the ruck pretty obviously.

Poulenc’s Trio for Oboe, Bassoon and Piano of 1926 served as a palate cleanser, enjoying a very affirmative account in the Salon space where audiences are close to the players; in this case, the ambience felt even more tightly knit, as though you were seated alongside the wind players, if not inside de Jager’s keyboard.   From the full-frontal initial Lent, it was evident we were in for a take-no-prisoners evening, de Jager powering across his opening 9 chords, followed by an intransigent semi-cadenza from Matthew Kneale’s bassoon, climaxing in a low B flat, massively triple forte, with David Reichelt rounding out the pseudo-Baroque dotted-rhythm-plus-trills stateliness with a piercing elegance – all of which disappeared with the jump into Presto at Figure 2 where we hit the 1920s as that period struck a receptive composer on the watch for piquancy of harmony and instrumental character.

As delivered by these players, this trio  impressed as more rowdy in atmosphere than usual, where the emphasis tends to be placed on the effete.  While the central Andante hit the expected element of melancholy with a bite, at the Rondo finale in D flat these musicians found a permeating current of vigorous excitement, buoyant enough to communicate Poulenc’s restrained exuberance, if presenting as more muscular in contour than you are accustomed to hear.

In some ways leading on from this spiky opening gambit, Guillaume Connesson’s four-minute moto perpetuo Techno Parade served as a tour de force for Kiran Phatak’s flute, Lloyd Van’t Hoff’s clarinet and Ledger on piano.  A relentless exercise in rapid-fire articulation and simultaneity, the piece came off  to fine effect, the wind duet work close to faultless and, if there’s not much to the score but boppy energy and a deft manipulation of jazz-inflected motifs, you could admire the execution for its confident drive.

Concerning the final two works on this night’s menu, what follows is unfortunately vague and, in some aspects, unreliable.  Not that the music itself was difficult to follow, but scratching notes in the dark as an aide-memoire is no way to guarantee precision of observation or evaluation. Still, this is what I heard – or thought I heard.

De Jager’s own Disintegration in two parts, elliptically titled Before and After, received its premiere here.   It involved all the Arcadians with extra instruments emerging occasionally – Phatak’s flute alternating with piccolo, Reichelt doubling up with a cor anglais and an oboe d’amore.  Each half held six sub-divisions, both starting with a chorale and ending with a movement called Perotin which offered a contemporary take or two on the medieval organum/conductus nexus.

In the work’s first half, a Barcarolle impressed for its subdued menace, a duet for bassoon and one of the oboe group weaving its path above suspended chords and a rolling piano underpinning.  Mounds of Earth brought Shaw’s horn into prominence in alliance with the piano although the title’s relevance to the movement’s emphatic linear content escaped me.  Phatak enjoyed a searching and emotionally appropriate cadenza in Melody: Hysteria. For the second Chorale, de Jager opted for staccato wind chords juxtaposed with sustained keyboard sounds; Evaporated Earth gave a clear illustration of the composer’s economy of matter: his music’s progress is orderly, not obsessively dissonant but concerned with sounds and their placement  –  in this movement particularly, I heard suggestive echoes of Webern-like cells and acrostics.  Death Metal Depths eschewed the flute and oboe voices at its beginning – all bass rumbles and very loud ostinati, illustrating the title’s sonic potential persuasively, although the action eventually did spread upwards to involve the soprano voices.

Disintegration intrigues for a restless mobility, reflected in its multi-partite nature, and it is a clear success as an essay in timbres.  You’d have to hear it several times to acquire a definite appreciation of its structure; for example, I found little to distinguish the Death Metal Depths from its attacca consequent, Immolation, apart from some Zauber Feuer Musik trills; and the Techno Funk Fire passed by without making much of an impression – quite distinctive, of course, but standing as something of an intellectual hiatus in proceedings.  De Jager’s lyrical and harmonic vocabularies are assimilable, his intentions remain clear throughout and, as you’d expect from a band of colleague-friends, the execution on this occasion impressed for its persuasive energy and pretty reliable ensemble work.

The sextet then engaged with Brett Dean’s Polysomnography, which took its inspiration from the technology associated with tracking and recording the brain’s activity.when one is dreaming.  Five movements examined, in musical terms, various techniques and/or results from this process: theta and delta waves, myocloni (twitches and spasms and their release), sleep spindles (abrupt bursts of brain activity) and the composer provided a kind of summative assessment in a Dream Sequence that capped the experience.

Dean begins with theta waves where rhythmic motion is all over the shop; the acoustic spectrum is disturbed (or eased?) by having some executants breathe into their instruments; an unsettling music with sustained trills for flute over complex sound washes.  Myoclonus presents a very active sonic field that yields to a placid conclusion. Dean’s Sleep Spindles are punctuated by woodwind arpeggios suggestive of that scene in Bartok’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle where the unfortunate heroine discloses a lake of tears, a searching horn solo rising from the mesh.  As for the climactic dream, this opens with a series of ejaculations led by bassoon, the sleeper’s experience eventually rising to a frantic climax with rushing figures that recede but, in a telling inspiration, remain sotto voce under the concluding pages’ placid progress.

This is a remarkable construct, all the more so when you consider what Dean is attempting.  You can find musical data that depict the designated brain activity if your bent is towards the specific, but Polysomnography works even more satisfyingly on a more suggestive plane or two.   Besides exemplifying in some shape the referents that the composer’s titles propose, the work stands as a remarkable challenge for its executants, testing their mastery of synchronicity, of dynamic leaps and articulatory bounds, and of crafting their sounds into a highly exposed, clear fabric.  Without a score, I can’t make any assertions about the precision of this performance but it pleased the composer, who was present.  For all that, like de Jager’s new work, it would be worth resuscitating in a future Arcadia program – on this showing, an event to be relished.

The players have an attractive collegiality in their work, further emphasized by their attraction to new music rather than sinking back into more comfortable repertoire by Danzi, Reicha, Nielsen and Hindemith.  They hold back nothing, giving you the benefits of their craft unstintingly.  And, thank God, they have a sense of humour; mind you, negotiating a taxing (and long) program like this, you’d need one.