16 January 2018

Strange view

So it is when you attend an organ concert in a church. In concert halls they are up the front, but in churches, the organs are usually up the back, over the entrance, and the pews face forward. It’s a good opportunity to listen, and I saw some closed eyes for this concert, but also perchance to dream. This was New Zealander Martin Setchell playing the George Fincham & Sons, built 1930 with tubular, pneumatic action. It’s highly regarded. MS introduced his works, a Bach prelude, an air and gavotte by Samuel Wesley, Elgar Pomp & Circumstance no.4, a fountain reverie and four more works in the form of a symphony, but by four composers. An interesting caprice. This was a large organ, ably filling this huge space, varying though all manner of gentle tones through to the grand, deep pitches. I tested with some apps. The low notes seemed to be ~50Hz and the pitch was well below A=440. But that’s just tech. I feel there’s an artefact in organs with slow formation, especially of low notes. I guess it’s the nature of moving that air. But how satisfying is a big tone, the deep notes and the high floating tones ad what’s this festival without it.

Martin Setchell (organ) performed in St Patrick’s.

15 January 2018

Way back

Well, it’s only really a century or so before the classics but it felt like forever. The program was called Echoes of the Celts and the band was La Compania. They are a Melbourne-based group playing early (pronounced er-lie?) music with sackbuts and viole da gamba and cornetti and the like and with a singer who was at home with gaelic. To my ears, this was music to drink by. I could only think of such a band in a field or a tavern with ales and meads and dancing women lifting heavy skirts. And another thought: love songs are forever, not surprisingly going with those dances in taverns. Just about every song was a love song, and mostly by women A later one was a tender song from a grandmother to her long-time spouse and otherwise they were of young love lost or sought. Just one was a political song opposing the Brits and there were a few instrumentals. I enjoyed the sackbut, the early trombone that played the bass line, and the pairing of the violin and cornetto, in unison or swapping lines. And the thuds of percussion and the accompaniment from early guitars or harp or lute and viola da gamba. And singer Lotte Betts-Dean was a standout. I guess she was soprano (ah, the program says mezzo) but I didn’t take much notice of that. This singing was different. Fast as, so even when I could read the lyrics they were tough to hear, but then there was the gaelic and its odd sounds that I could seldom read against the text. They were a bit dour, for the style, but the location was hardly a pub so to some degree that’s expected. But this was a revelation and an unexpected pleasure.

La Compania are Lotte Betts-Dean (mezzo-sprano), Danny Lucin (cornetto, director), Lizzy Walsh (baroque fiddle), Glenn Bardwell (sackbut), Victoria Watts (viola da gamba), Rosemary Hodgson (baroque guitar, lute, harp), Denis Close (guitarino, bodhran, frame drums), Christine Baker (bodhran, bones, frame drums).

14 January 2018

The core

This was a mid afternoon concert at Wendouree Centre for Performing Arts. A generous and impressive place for a school hall, but this apparently belongs to the Ballarat Grammar (the headmaster was thanked for providing it). This was the core of the classical repertoire: three sonatas, two by Beethoven (no.5 Fmaj “Spring” and no.1 Dmaj), one by Brahms (no.2 Amaj). And the players were superb. Monica Curro, an assistant principal at the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and Stefan Cassomenos. SC had played the previous night for the opening concert. Here the piano was a generous Steinway and we were close up. I fell in love with the close spelling of the tune the shared sense of dynamics and phrasing, the frequent delicacy of the violin and the strength and forcefulness of the piano. Just superb renditions, informed and reasoned and most importantly shared. These two play together in a modern group, Plexus, and this was not that, but their mutual understanding showed. SC would often look up to MC awaiting a lead; MC was oddly positioned to not easily look to SC, but it all worked. Truly, a great treat! How the classics should be played.

Monica Curro (violin) and Stefan Cassomenos (piano) played Beethoven and Brahms sonatas.

13 January 2018


This place was called Snake Valley and the concert was in a lovely old Uniting Church (built Presbyterian, 1861) in a field behind trees on the country road. The feature was a Fincham and Hobday organ. You get to know these names at this event. They were makers in Melbourne and this one dates from 1894. Some problems that appeared during the first up Bach were presumably remedied for the rest of the concert, but this is the nature of such a beast. I expect funds are tight for maintenance. The players were Anthony Halliday and Tomomi Kondo Brennan. AH plays organs around the world, not least in London and Leipzig, and has appeared here before. TKM has a history on violin from Japan through Canada and is now an associate principal with Orchestra Victoria. OV is the Melbourne-based orchestra supporting the Australian Ballet and Opera. So no slouches. The music was a mix of solo organ and duets from Bach, Handel, Beethoven, Haydn, Elgar, Mozart and Widor and Vitali. There were some tech hitches with the Bach but we could still enjoy the variations in tone and power that pipe organ can display, and some very capable playing of multiple parts. The duets featured the violin, with the organ surprisingly reticent when accompanying but also when taking a phrase. Perhaps the tech issue or perhaps AH’s artistic judgement. I much enjoyed TKM’s bowing as a class in itself, being close up, especially some very effective and even slurs and bouncing passages. Lovely ll round.

Anthony Halliday (organ) and Tomomi Kondo Brennan (violin) performed at the Uniting Church Snake Valley for the Organs of the Ballarat Goldfields Festival.

12 January 2018


First up was the opening concert at St Patrick’s Cathedral (huge and impressive and reaching for the stars and bedecked with ribbons). The Gloriana Chamber Choir performed with Carlos E Barcenas and Stefan Cassomenos and Argentinian percussion. They started hidden in the choir stalls with chant, unison, high and female, then a second piece of chant, this time in harmony, with mediaeval-like drums accompaniment and a slow walk to the altar. Nice. I liked this one. Then Ariel Ramirez Missa Criolla. It’s a setting of the mass in post-Vatican II non-Latin with accompaniment of South American folk idioms and indigenous instruments. I found this is bit unsatisfying for its harmonies, but others claimed this as their piece for the night. My fave for the night was two movements (3,4) form Joby Talbot Path of miracles, telling of the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella. It was sung mostly in English but with some Latin, accompanied by various percussion instruments, using frequent obbligato passages and the like. My favourite for the night. Very nicely sung by the Gloriana Choir, a very strong tenor voice from Carlos and some very decent accompaniment.

Gloriana Chamber Choir was led by Andrew Raiskums (conductor) with Carlos E Barcenas (tenor), Stefan Cassomenos (piano), David Richardson and Ben Smart (Argentinian percussion).

11 January 2018


We’re into 2018 and CJ returns but not to Canberra. We are in Ballarat to look after a friend’s house and dogs. Ballarat is a stunningly beautiful town, perhaps with the dark underside so common with wealth and beauty, or past wealth and beauty. Its buildings certainly display past wealth even if there seem to be plenty of discount stores amongst the impressive stone of the golden past. It was, for 2 years, the richest metropolitan area in the world but that’s ~150 years ago now. And the dark side we’ve been hearing of through a Royal Commission. The fence and gates outside the Catholic cathedral had been festooned with ribbons. I’m told they were taken down by the church at the end of the RC but they reappeared within days. More dark side maybe, and not particularly hidden. It’s heartening that some are not for forgetting even in this era of forgetfulness. To bide our time, we are attending the Organs of the Ballarat Goldfields festival, so expect a string of (short) reports on various classical and related concerts around the area, many featuring local pipe organs. Ballarat is rich in them (18 in Ballarat and lots more around the area). Just more remainders from the era of wealth.