On Thursday evening, Louisa Hunter-Bradley, Lizzy Welsh, and David Macfarlane came together for ‘Scorned Women’ – a program of Italian early baroque works. Setting the scene for an intimate and historically informed performance, Hurley Vineyard’s timber-walled space, lined with oak barrels, could well have been a cellar in 17th-century Italy. Centred mainly around vocal music (by men) for and about women, the concert also included two notable songs by Barbara Strozzi, whose 400th anniversary invited us to reflect on the remarkable body of work she composed during her lifetime.
David Macfarlane provided thoughtful realisation on harpsichord and organ, and the performers’ sense of humour, ensemble, and baroque style was excellent throughout. Soprano and recorder player Louisa Hunter-Bradley’s engagement with this music is evident. The plights of scorned baroque women, however, can tend to be textually similar. A stronger expression of the individual personalities of these women, or perhaps subversion of the text in performance – especially in the light of current conversation around feminism – might have added new layers of dramatic depth. The real treat of the evening was violinist Lizzy Welsh, whose easy and characterful virtuosity brought the music of Castello, Fontana, and Frescobaldi into vivid focus for a captivated audience.
At Moorooduc Estate, where undulating ceilings echo vineyard terrain beyond the windows, Peter de Jager’s interpretation of two seminal piano works – Bach’s Partita in E minor and Beethoven’s ‘Appassionata’ Sonata no. 57 – proved a timely performance for an appreciative audience on Friday afternoon. While the partita’s slow movements tended towards the romantic, the contrasting fast movements were thrilling in their pacy delivery. Beethoven’s ‘Appassionata’ is frequently interpreted as depicting the raging forces of nature, composed as he came to terms with impending deafness. Beethoven presses the point with a repeated, looming ‘fate’ motif – played here with pointed intent. Alongside de Jager’s evocative and dramatic delivery, this performance was made all the more formidable by the blanket of smoke haze outside.
The festival continues until 10 January including performances by Inventi Ensemble, Affinity Quartet, Alinta & The Jazz Emperors, Adrian Tamburini, and First Nations interdisciplinary artist Eric Avery.