Empires CD review (The Australian)

The Australian, 15 February 2015
Reviewed by Graham Strahle 

AT his height as a countertenor three decades ago, Rene Jacobs came up with a gorgeous performance of Johann Christoph Bach’s aria Ach, dass ich Wassers g’nug hatte with the Kuijken Consort.

Surprisingly, Jacobs’s efforts have been topped by a crew from Melbourne. The much admired countertenor Christopher Field joins forces with versatile baroque trio Latitude 37 to create a dreamier recording of the same aria. Field is lighter and more effortless, and his vocal timbre intoxicatingly beautiful.

Plus, he sidesteps Jacobs’s occasional swooping mannerisms and draws a profounder meaning from the words. An augmented Latitude 37, with extra violas da gamba and chamber organ, sounds wonderfully sumptuous. Empires is an odd ragbag of music. Buxtehude, Biber, Finger and Bernhard rub shoulders with Turkish and Balkan instrumental folk pieces. That’s where the album’s title, Empires, comes in. Latitude 37 has tried to bring together two rival, warring civilisations of the 17th century – the Hapsburg and Ottoman empires.

The album proves how alien they were musically. But Latitude 37 plays its eclectic miscellany masterfully, defying what seems an impossible stylistic span for a single group to tackle.

The playing of gambist Laura Vaughan, violinist Julia Fredersdorff and keyboardist Donald Nicolson is marvellously skilled and impeccably stylish. Here, at last, is an Australian baroque group that can confidently mix it with the world’s best.

LABEL: ABC Classics
RATING: 4.5 stars