Young Handel – Thoroughbass
Diana Weston, harpsichord/ Shaun Ng, viola da gamba/ Anna Fraser, soprano
The Independent Theatre, North Sydney/Sunday March 26th 2017
Written by Victoria Watson
The Independent Theatre with its live acoustic and elegant neo-classical architecture was the perfect venue for Thoroughbass’s delightful concert dedicated to the early Italian chamber works of Georg Friedrich Handel (1685-1759). The audience enjoyed a sumptuous afternoon tea and then settled in to hear a beautifully structured concert contrasting works for viola da gamba and harpsichord, keyboard solos and cantatas involving all three performers.
Shaun Ng was particularly impressive in the slow sonata movements for viola da gamba where the mellifluous tone of the instrument is ideally exploited. The affetuoso third movement of the Sonata in D minor was most “affecting”- the beauty of tone, phrasing and line evoked a mood of exquisitely sorrowful calm.
The cantatas were two short exquisite gems in the first half, then the six movement drama of Lucrezia (HMV 145) to finish the programme. They were framed by the instrumental works inviting the audience to focus on the contrasting and complementary timbres of gamba, harpsichord and voice. Soprano Anna Fraser brought a superb musical and emotional intelligence to her readings of the cantatas and shone as a singing actor whose technique and artistry served the myriad of changing emotions and musical demands of the virtuosic Lucrezia – both the most demanding and exhilarating of the afternoon. Shaun Ng treated the continuo line as a true duetto with the voice, illustrating each fluctuating mood and caprice with his phrasing and articulation of Handel’s magical score. Harpsichordist Diana Weston was at her finest in the ensemble pieces realising the challenging non-figured bass line with creative flourish and firm support.
Written when he was only 21 and first performed in Florence in 1706, the final cantata showed the master of theatrical music Handel would become. Lucrezia is a chamber sized mini-opera of great ingenuity and power. The story is one that would also inspire Shakespeare and Benjamin Britten. Handel captures the tortured anguish of a virtuous woman agonised by the trauma of rape and dishonour who chooses suicide as an end to her suffering. Every nuance of her trauma, anger, despair, vengeance and despondency are explored concisely in a rapid fire work that moves seamlessly from recitative, sometimes richly ornamented, to arias of bravura coloratura and mournful chromatic legato. Thoroughbass presented this work with passion and attention to baroque performance practice balanced to bring the work fresh again to a 21st century audience.
Victoria Watson is a graduate of Melbourne university and VCA. She has appeared regularly as a soprano with the Victoria State Opera and has toured and served as artistic director of many chamber ensembles.
She has performed with Sydney Symphony Orchestra and for ten years, was artistic director of a major opera education project with Opera Australia. Since 2015 she has moved into directing opera including Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte at the Independent theatre.
Victoria has lectured in voice at the major universities in Melbourne, and is currently a tutor at UNSW. Having taught at major Sydney secondary colleges, she now runs a busy private singing studio. She is a published author on opera and a popular freelance music and theatre lecturer and advocate for Australian artists around the world.