Twilight is the new black for chamber music.
Packed (COVID) houses at Winthrop Hall for Australian Baroque’s Vivaldi by Candlelight prove the early evening timeslot is ripe for a world starved of live performance.
A social media blitz by Spanish tech co Fever has all-but sold out 19 recitals over two months starting this week, with a diverse demographic bringing fresh energy to the towering architecture at UWA.
A cordon of squat e-candles around a central island stage gave a warm reflection of the setting sun as mothers and daughters, friends and couples in every shade of casual summer dress flooded the auditorium with a bright, bubbly air enhanced by brisk sales of alcohol.
Lighting dimmed as the artists moved in, a low glow on stage and the strained tones of tuning notes inveigling the audience in a deeper level of engagement.
Vivaldi’s clean, sparse sounds cut through the gathering gloom with a levity reinforced by the historically inspired instruments.
Guest solo violinist Shaun-Lee Chen danced, bird-like, over Andrew Sinclair’s vibrant bass, Noeleen Wright’s cello, Christian Read’s viola, tutti violinists Paul Wright and Helen Kruger and harpsichordist Stewart Smith; a languor in Chen’s lead imparting an infinitesimal lightness to dreamlike cadences.
Australian Baroque come fresh from Fringe sessions of music mixed with coffee, cakes and workouts, but here the familiar onset of Spring, the first of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, reached back to the first stirrings of the tradition.
High strings swooned over fretting chords, zephyrs of sound caressing the hall, enthralling all.
More tuning of the historical strings seemed only to melt further the barrier between stalls and stage before Summer arrived with sunshine and tempest in equal parts.
Barely there and stately in the onset, the ensemble erupted into the drama of baking rays and shimmering thermals, ennervating high noon pursued by energetic flurries and clouds of a gathering storm.
Natural fibres in the strings seemed a world away from modern steel, and so much closer to the teeming inspiration of Vivaldi’s pre-industrial era, each stanza introduced by Read’s bucolic recital of the original program notes.
Autumn brought a harvest festival and a hunt, the quarry dying with the sun. Moody dance measures and sonorous solo flourishes summoned sweet sorrow in the waning of warmth; a confident ease laced with melancholy, and darkly numinous.
Yet meditation lifted the mood before dance restored balance.
Finally, Winter breezed in with angular chords like chards of ice or frost on glass. Chen’s violin skated over gossamer-like melodic lines before breaking back to vigorous dance.
Overall, the ensemble achieved a distinctly organic sound to match their instruments, voices radiating in all directions from the “in the round” setting.
Some of the most sonorous playing was saved for last, with silvery streams of duelling violins giving way to a rocking good finish.
Shaun-Lee Chen appeared courtesy of Australian Brandenburg Orchestra.