Sweeter Than Roses concert, Miriam Allan and The Muffat Collective, Adamstown Uniting Church, August 10
Sweeter than Roses - one of Henry Purcell's songs loved by singers and audiences alike - was the title of a concert given by soprano Miriam Allan and Sydney-based group, The Muffat Collective, at the Adamstown Uniting Church for the Newcastle Music Festival.
The program comprised music by Henry Purcell and G.F. Handel, moving seamlessly between vocal and instrumental items. Throughout music did indeed "our cares beguile", as the famous song Musick for a while welcomed listeners to a feast of rare musical delight.
Since leaving Newcastle as a graduate of the Conservatorium, Miriam Allan has developed a distinguished international career spanning baroque opera, oratorio, and chamber music including the acclaimed Monteverdi madrigal recordings by Les Arts Florissants.
In this program she reminded us of her lasting delight in the songs of Purcell.
Many in the audience would recall the freshness with which she sang this repertoire as a gifted student years ago.
She now brings to it a mastery of Purcell's unique idiom that is both effortless and subtle.
Drawing in the audience through the bold emotional contrasts in the poetry, she showed how the sounds of words could be used to shape vocal lines with exhilarating ease and directness.
Linking the emotional journey of the songs, the instrumental pieces performed by The Muffat Collective wove an intriguing path from the dark and sometimes lugubrious Purcell trio sonatas to the wit and brightness of Handel's Saul sonata(based on movements from the great oratorio).
The intensity of Purcell's C minor and B minor sonatas showed the English composer as a master of Italian style, with a taste for dissonance more extreme than Corelli whom he aimed, at least partly, to imitate.
While the "Broken Consort" of Purcell's contemporary Matthew Locke represented the "ancient" style of 17th-century English music, Purcell's trio sonata style appeared in all its astonishing modernity - most of all in the B minor sonata with its taut dissonant textures and declamatory climax.
Violinists Matthew Greco and Rafael Font-Viera (whose research also shaped the program) achieved an outstanding vitality and clarity in their exchanges, with lively support from continuo team Anton Baba (viola da gamba) and Anthony Abouhamad (harpsichord).
In the emotional climax of the program, Purcell's wonderful ground bass aria, The Plaint ("O let me weep") from The Fairy Queen brought together song and violin solo in poignant dialogue: a performance of powerful simplicity reaching its stoic conclusion "And I shall never see him more".
After the intense sadness of The Plaint, we were eased back into a light-hearted group of pieces culminating in the hilarity of the finale of Handel's Saul sonata.
This virtuoso piece for the violinists, made up of scraps of themes, gave an exuberant after-taste to the saucy Purcell song She loves and She confesses.
The audience was reluctant to let this concert end, and was rewarded with a radiant performance of Purcell's Fairest Isle, which Miriam Allan explained as referring not to Britain, but to Australia for these performers, whose brilliant careers regularly carry them far from home.