Yap’s Chocolate Viola a feast for the ears and the soul

Daniel Brace
October 22, 2023

Melbourne Baroque Orchestra | The Chocolate Viola

Performance 15 Oct, 2023 – reviewed from the live recording

I’m so grateful that over the past few years we have really gotten used to enjoying live music both in the concert venue and also at home, thanks to good quality live streaming and recording. But in this case, I think the live audience had an advantage.

The Chocolate Viola was curated and performed by award winning viola soloist Katie Yap as part of the the Melbourne Baroque Orchestra 2023 series. This was not just a feast for the ears and the soul, but also the taste buds with the provision of very special handmade chocolates by chocolatier and long-time MBO supporter, Martin Houben.

The title of the concert also reflects to me how we talk about the timbre of the viola. Which is described on the internet as ‘dark, warm, pleasing and rich’. I’d be comfortable adding ‘chocolate undertones’ to that list.

The concert opened with a set of mainly women composers starting with an arrangement by Donald Nicolson, who also performed on harpsichord, of the Ave Generosa by Hildegard von Bingen, perhaps the only composer in the program who lived BC (before chocolate). It was a lovely, gentle arrangement with an extemporaneous feel with the solo change line played by the viola against the hum and organum accompaniment of the other strings.

There’s a beautiful line in the Ave Generosa as heaven and earth celebrate the Virgin Mary: Cum omnis celestis symphonia de te sonuit  (When the heavenly symphony sounded about you)

Next in the program was a song by Francesca Caccini, nicknamed “Le Cecchina” by her fellow Florentines, Te Lucis Ante Terminum (1618), and Che Si Puo Fare (1664) by the prolific and successful publisher of her own music, the Venetian composer Barbara Strozzi. Katie’s ornamentation on the vocal line was elegant, extravagant and appropriate. The lovely deep sound of the viola really showed off the (dare I say it) chocolatey lower register of the instrument.

Bringing us back to the present day was a work by Alice Chance, a composer based on the lands of the Eora Nation in Sydney, called O Pastor Animarum (2011). A duet for two violas, it was performed by Katie and Suzanna Ling, who I think also baked brownies for the concert.

chocolate viola 1

One of the reasons I couldn’t make this concert in person was that it was the day after the referendum and it was nice that this was recognised in the concert with a quiet and reflective new composition by Katie; a soothing lullaby and balm for the previous days and weeks.

Telemann’s Viola Concerto in G Major is thought to be the first to showcase the virtuosic technique on the instrument. It’s a terrific work and a work-out for the performers – a shout out to Rosanne Hunt on cello who parried with Katie on viola in equally flashy passages. Katie shined, showcasing her technical and artistic prowess.

It was such a treat to hear the Brandenburg No. 6 by J.S. Bach with its unique scoring for a due Viole da Braccio, due Viole da Gamba, Violoncello, Violone e Cembalo. It may be easier just to call it a concerto for all players, as each instrument gets a guernsey. My favourite moments across the movements are when the basso continuo ‘kicks in’ sounding like someone switched on a subwoofer, obviously the violone played by Miranda Hill, and in the exhilarating close canons between all parts in the final movement.

My thanks to Dovi Hanner, videographer and sound engineer for the video recording which captured these rich and luscious sounds and the feeling of being there and part of the concert.

What a world of luxury to sit at home with my own box of Haighs (the best I could do) and be connected to such wonderful performers and music. At least I could cheer and clap whenever I wanted to, which was loudly and often.

You can find more recordings of MBO concerts online at BYO chocolates.


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