Nelson Mail, 26 August 2011

Fine sounds from rare instruments

My initial apprehension that a whole evening of Italian Baroque chamber music could be somewhat repetitive was overcome by the vitality and enthusiasm of Latitude 37 and the visual as well as aural delight of their beautiful hand-crafted instruments.

The lirone I had only seen pictured in musical history books. A many-stringed lyre, held between the knees, it produces harmonious chords tuned in 4ths and 5ths and was an expressive bass accompaniment to the other instruments. The scrolled head was artistically engraved and drew many people to the stage at the interval.

The elegant viola da gamba was my favourite. Another beautifully handcrafted instrument, it is played with an upturned palm, the musician using her bow with the artistry of a painter, producing rich sounds like deep bubbling water running through a narrow gorge.

The baroque violin had a purity of sound too. It was played without vibrato, the embellishment of a note created by fast trilling and meandering turns. There was a freedom to the tempo, and expressive changes of pulse. The subtle lengthening of the bow-stroke produced intriguing changes of feeling. The violinist often seemed to be the soloist of the trio.

The harpsichord was also made of a beautiful pale-coloured wood, and has been transported around New Zealand on tour. Donald Nicholson was equally comfortable as soloist and group-player. He played with an expressive whimsical concentration. Even his frequent tuning of the instrument was musically pleasurable.

The programme of short pieces by obscure 17th-century Italian composers, such as Caccini, Picchi and Merulo, was unfortunately organised in brackets, Though I enjoyed the continuity of the music, I was often at a loss to know what I was actually listening to.

Latitude 37 is an Australasian music trio with a difference. They play their original instruments with passion and the free spirit of improvisation. They created an evening of baroque music that was tantalising and enjoyable both emotionally and intellectually. Thank you, Chamber Music New Zealand for undertaking the transportation of these fine musicians and their lovely instruments across the Tasman and around the country.

Latitude 37; Julia Fredersdorf violin, Laura Vaughan – viola da gamba, lirone, Donald Nicholson – harpsichord.

Nelson School of Music, August 24.


Reviewed by Margot Hannigan.