On Tuesday, the Melbourne-based ensemble Latitude 37 took an appreciative audience for a most civilized stroll on the wild side in a captivating concert of German Baroque music.

The programme, titled Stylus Phantasticus: A Soundtrack of the Baroque Imagination, suggested that composers back then were closer to today's jazz musos than their crusty, bewigged portraits might suggest.

Donald Nicolson's dashing harpsichord stylings certainly made the connection.

Accompanying Laura Vaughan's sleek viola da gamba lines in a Sonata by Gottfried Finger, Nicolson's final pages seem to flirt with flamenco. Playing Buxtehude, bobbing his head to the backbeat, his often punchy contributions would have had Earl Fatha Hines nodding in approval.


By himself, in Bach's E minor Toccata, the New Zealander's dazzling performance confirmed that, as Glenn Gould once suggested, these pieces were indeed more "modern" than later works by the composer. It was a showcase, too, for Paul Downie's subtly-voiced instrument, climaxing with an almost orgiastic outburst of E major.

There was also something of a jazz spirit in the way the trio shared their music, leaning into dissonances and floating, free and fanciful, through short Adagio links in the opening Rosenmuller Sonata.

The revelations for me were the minor composers. A Trio by Philipp Heinrich Erlebach, with concise, uncluttered dances, gave the musicians the opportunity to work some exquisite shadings into the Sarabande.

Pachelbel's popular Canon came across as an elegant jam session, its companion Gigue such a romp that one wondered whether a discreet drumkit was lurking somewhere in the Downie harpsichord.

Despite the fact that seventeenth-century musicians happily adapted their music for whatever instruments were available, a transcription of Bach's E minor Organ Trio Sonata lacked the clarity and grace of the earlier music, with violinist Julia Fredersdorff occasionally stressed by Bach's keyboard-style figurations.

Fredersdorff was, however, superb in a C minor Sonata by the eccentric German Heinrich Biber, which also gave Vaughan the chance for translucent chordings on her lirone. Responding confidently to all Biber's considerable technical challenges, Fredersdorff's obligatory re-tuning between movements blended effectively with Nicolson's improv - hip, contemporary, and almost seeming as if it were part of the composer's original intentions.

What: Latitude 37
Where: Town Hall Concert Chamber
When: Tuesday