Kim Tan, Lizzy Welsh, et al. : Oscillations

Kim Tan, Lizzy Welsh, Peter de Jager and Alexander Garsden
Northcote Uniting Church
13 December

Kim Tan and Lizzy Welsh’s new duo explores contemporary music on baroque instruments. Baroque violin and flute is a magical combination, with the brightness of the former complementing the mellow tones of the latter. In their first concert, Tan and Welsh team up with virtuoso keyboardist Peter de Jager and composer Alexander Garsden for an exchange between diverse sound worlds.

Peter de Jager’s Prelude explores baroque gesture in the semi-improvised form of a Prelude. The trio of harpsichord, violin and flute begin in a state of gestural unison, with De Jager playing dense trills in the middle of the keyboard. Within this sparkling, rumbling cloud of sound the violin natters away with snatches of diatonic melodic fragments, while the dark flute plays a warbling ostinato. The violin gestures become more protracted as the piece progresses, with arpeggios and repetitive string crossings. The harpsichord also becomes more individuated, with chords and recognisable ornaments. Occasionally the flute and violin take leave of the trio texture for an episode in imitation, riffing on murmurs and double-dotted passages. De Jager progresses around the harpsichord, taking a grand tour of its registers, manuals and stops. The violin and flute are given a similarly thorough working-through, with moments for sautillé bowing and playing from the fingerboard to the bridge. Tan’s control of the baroque flute provided a broad, warm sonority sadly absent from Australian contemporary music. Hopefully many commissions will follow.

Two works by Clarence Barlow utilised modern instruments, but brought them into contact with drones and improvisations on limited rhythmic and modal resources inspired by Classical Indian music. In Until … Version 7, a guitarist plays a pattern of harmonics in an improvised rhythm and order, while an accompanying electronic drone rises imperceptibly in pitch. Garsden maintained a sense of line in each variation, keeping the audience rapt throughout the entire performance. In this way the audience were able to register the magical effect of the changing harmony of the accompanying drone, which gradually introduced complex harmonic beats to different parts of the guitar’s pattern. Until … Version 8 also uses variations on given sets of pitches and rhythms for a solo instrument, but this time for piccolo (played by Tan). The piccolo and electronic parts combine to produce difference tones in the listener, which at times take on striking melodic independence.

Alexander Garsden’s Law II for baroque violin had its second outing at the Oscillations concert. The piece is at once an accomplished exploration of spectralist compositional techniques and a sinisterly theatrical work. Garsden builds a bewildering electronic track out of analogue synthesis and granulated baroque violin. The teeming soundscape of insect-like chirps projects a Heart of Darkness-like horror as the baroque violin enters doing what it does best: bow sound. The piece proceeds in a series of electroacoustic builds and instrumental responses, with the violin becoming more violent as the piece progresses, until the violin is positively attacked with the side of the bow.

Oscillations presented two contrasting lines between baroque and contemporary music. One the one hand, sound, including timbre and temperament. This perspective resonates with our everyday rapport with baroque music. The early music industry today is in part a set of recording practices highlighting “instrument sound”. After two and a half centuries of equal temperament the range of temperaments used in the baroque is also an entirely appropriate point of fascination. On the other hand, notation, including form and gesture. De Jager’s Prelude was particularly representative of this second line. Many baroque pieces were not written for specific instruments and the refinement of notation and practice in continuo playing ushered in new forms and styles that were only secondarily cemented in a particular instrumental tone colour. This line seems more closely aligned with serial and then complexist composition. It will be interesting to see how these different lines are developed in Tan and Welsh’s future concerts.

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