Rarely do we have an opportunity to hear music that has been rescued fortuitously from the debris of war — in the case of the Dunera Mass concert at the Canberra International Music Festival on Saturday afternoon, from manuscripts cherished through the decades by one of the original performers, Oswald von Wolkenstein.

The standing ovation at the end of the event showed how welcome that opportunity was.

Dunera Mass, Canberra International Music Festival 2023. Photo © Peter Hislop

The concert was as much an explanation of the historical past as a presentation of music written in the early 1940s aboard the transport ship Dunera and in internment camps in NSW and Victoria.

Nicole Forsyth, professional violist and lecturer in Historic Performance and Strings at the Sydney Conservatorium, provided the unifying thread for the event, first as she narrated the story of the “Dunera boys” and the recovery of the music, and later when she put her microphone aside and took up her viola to join the festival’s artistic director, Roland Peelman (piano), and members of the Luminescence Chamber...