Concert Review: Broken Consorts/ Ensemble Offspring/Ironwood Chamber Ensemble


Broken Consorts

Ensemble Offspring and Ironwood Chamber Ensemble

Utzon Room, Sydney Opera House

28 February 2015


Two ensembles from contrasting backgrounds – Ironwood Chamber ensemble, specialising in historical performance – and Ensemble Offspring – specialising in modern music – collaborated to perform an exquisite recital of works for broken consorts. The intriguing title refers to ensembles made up of instruments from more than one family. This programme, featuring flute, clarinet, piano, violins, viola, cello and percussion, was thoughtfully planned to present a collection of early works and modern interpretations on early compositional forms. 

The earlier works on the programme were by English Baroque composers, William Lawes and Matthew Locke. Both men were privileged to work for the royal courts of  Charles I and Charles II respectively. The unique combination of instruments offered a different yet pleasing interpretation of these works. Displaying dissonant harmonies, contrapuntal melodies and at times homogenous sound colours resulting in an overall wholeness to the extended ensemble. One especially interesting interpretation was a Suite from the Tempest (1674) by Matthew Locke, drawn from the opera by Thomas Shadwell. The ensemble used prepared instruments, namely the piano and percussion, to produce shimmering tremolos. 

The more modern compositions on the programme were commissioned works by Felicity Wilcox, Mary Finsterer and Ensemble Offspring’s own Damien Ricketson. Ensemble Offspring and Ironwood commissioned Felicity Wilcox to create a work especially for this program. Uncovered Ground (2015) featured an early compositional device, a ‘ground’, as the basis for the work. The concept of the composition was the depiction of a large brick wall with pieces of concrete being chipped away slowly to eventually reveal a coloured mural. This idea was illustrated in music by the use of large blocks of sound in terraced dynamics interwoven with  hammering and scraping notes from each of the instruments.

Damien Ricketson composed Trace Elements for the Warsaw Autumn Festival in 2003. The piece is based on an ancient musical form, the Cracow Lute Tablature and   uses similar tablature notation, which provides instructions to the player on what actions are required but not what sounds to play. Using this theory, the work can be performed by any two winds and two stringed instruments, resulting in any one performance sounding completely different from another. The underlying constant lies with each instrument playing similar rhythms whilst pitch and colours are allowed to vary and flourish at whim. 

The last piece performed on the program was Silva by Mary Finsterer, commissioned by Ensemble Offspring in 2013. Silva translated from Latin means “forest”. During this two-part work, the listener was transported by the sonorous sounds and harmonics produced by the strings, vibes, cymbals and gongs to a place that might have high green canopies offering vast space. The work also featured thematic material from Tallis’s 40 voice motet Spem in alium and Schubert’s Death and the Maiden. This was an exceptionally beautiful performance by Ensemble Offspring and Ironwood Chamber Ensemble. A collaboration of like-minded musicians offering yet another new insight to modern musical performance for today.


Alison Evans for SoundsLikeSydney©

 Alison Evans is a freelance bassoon player and an experienced music educator. She completed a Master of Music (Performance) at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, and a Bachelor of Music (Performance) at the Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University. Alison has recently completed her doctoral degree at the Sydney School of Public Health, The University of Sydney where her research relates to the applied functional anatomy of the soft palate in woodwind and brass players. Alison is co-founder and performs regularly with the Sirius Chamber Ensemble.




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