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Easter Viol School Concert Review
One of the highlights for those attending this year's Easter Viol School was an opportunity to hear School tutors Les Voix Humaines in concert. This was rare treat - the duo has never been to Australia and its recordings can be difficult to get hold of. Their recordings really do give a clear sense of the breadth of vision and colour these performers bring to the music and if you don't know them, make every effort to track them down.
Les voix humaines maintained a flexible approach to programming in their Melbourne and Sydney concerts. Both concerts explored three main areas of interest - arrangements of keyboard pieces or works for solo viol for the medium of two viols, concerts by Sainte-Colombe and contemporary works. The programmes they presented in both cities drew heavily on what is perhaps their best-known recording, Folies, as well as canvassing the repertoire of the Sainte-Colombe concerts, all of which they have been engaged in recording for the past couple of years.
A French bracket opened the programme. Lebegue's Les cloches, originally a keyboard piece, had been so skillfully reworked by Susie Napper that it was difficult to believe that it had not been written originally for the medium of two viols - a real hallmark of all Napper's arrangements. Three pieces by Marais, originally for solo viol, but here arranged for two, followed - Les Voix Humaines, Jeu du Volant and Saillie du Jardin. The arrangements were absolutely sympathetic to the instrument. The rearrangement of the material permitted a true conversation between two equals to unfold in Les Voix Humaines and distributed the technical demands of Jeu du Volant a bit more equally than in the original. The duo moved on to play Ellipses written for them by Isabelle Panneton. Although this was apparently inspired by Sainte-Colombe's concerts, it displayed too little of the musical concision and sympathy to the viol's resources we know in that composer's works. Notwithstanding this, it was given an enthusiastic reception. The half ended with three Couperin works originally written for harpsichord - Le Dodo, Musette de Taverni and Musette de Choisi.
The second half ended with an arrangement of part of Marais's Les folies that, like the Jeu du Volant arrangement, shared the musical interest between the participants more equally than the original. Only about half of the variations were incorporated into the arrangement, but there was no loss in Marais's original narrative drive. For me, the highlight of the concert was the little bracket of Sainte-Colombe concerts that opened the second half. I've been avidly collecting the duo's recordings of this repertoire and was fortunate enough to participate in the Sainte-Colombe class that they ran at the viol school. Susie mentioned to me that the duo still finds sight-reading a new piece of Sainte-Colombe like trying to read Chinese, but there was no doubt in their performance and teaching of this repertoire that they are absolutely abreast of all the technical and expressive challenges of this repertoire. Extraordinary music making of repertoire that demands the level of insight these two brought to it.
1 - Rotation of the wrist. To obtain a clear bow change with a good connection with the string while using a slow to medium bow speed: Try rotating the wrist upwards, making the bow hair sit flat on the strings, while doing an up bow. Rotate downwards as you do a down bow. NB The rotation is only slight and should be smooth, the majority of the rotation happening near the frog.
2. Tuning - As a (relative) newcomer to viols, one of the frustrating things I find about workshops (and often concerts) is the time taken with tuning. This can be partly overcome by everyone using tuners with microphones - clip on or suction sold for tuning acoustic guitars. This was given official endorsement so as to speak by the recent Consort Eclectus concert in Canberra. They were able to tune simultaneously and quickly making it much less distracting for the audience. They played beautifully in tune as well! Perhaps we can all equip ourselves for the upcoming consort workshops and the Hastings Consortium. While on tuning another tip is to use pencil on the top of the bridge and at the tuning peg end where the strings have to go across a ridge. The pencil makes the strings glide more easily. To make the pegs work better you can use peg goo or better still (according to Bob Meadows instrument maker) take each peg out and apply normal soap to the vital parts and then cover the soap with talcum powder. Insert back into the hole and turn to line the insides of the holes with the soap/talcum mixture. Remove, recover with talcum powder and replace. This makes the pegs move smoothly while at the same time sticking when needed.
Viols close to God?
Not widely reported in the Australian media but given prominence in the April 25 edition of the Fiji Times is that fact that the new Pope - Benedict XVI has as his closest personal staff a woman who plays the viola da gamba! To quote the Fiji Times "Her name is Ingrid Stampa, she is a 55-year-old professor of the viola da gamba, an ancient musical instrument similar to the modern cello (sic) and she has been the Pope's housekeeper for the past 14 years. Born in Kleve, western Germany, Stampa studied medieval music in Basel and later taught there and in Hamburg, northern Germany. She also performed the viola da gamba at concerts and made recordings."