The Australian Brandenburg Orchestra (ABO) lived up to its brilliant reputation and honoured its now well-established traditions, when they presented a spectacular concert Blazing Baroque on Saturday evening July 30, 2016 in the Elisabeth Murdoch Hall at Melbourne Recital Centre.
The enthusiasm of Artistic Director and Harpsichordist Paul Dyer was infectious when bearing aloft their newly won Helpmann Award for Best Chamber and-or Instrumental Ensemble Concert in 2015.
During the course of the evening Paul Dyer and his musicians revealed Baroque’s music’s significance for the contemporary experience through a program that ‘let his players exult’ and the audience express their ecstatic delight!
Combining harmony with beauty the splendid musicians of the ABO exploited musical melody to deliver a powerful performance that was both brilliantly entertaining and blazing-ly sublime.
They proved that joy has no boundary when celebrating the beauty and gifts of life.
The Italian composers were represented by Giovanni Battista Sammartini (1701 – 1775) a composer of some importance in the grand scheme of the Baroque style (1600 – 1750) and Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741), who in design of melodic content sent sensuous beauty soaring.
The evening started with glorious grace, Sammartini’s Ouverture to the opera Memet J-C 88. He is credited with being the first musician to embrace a ‘symphonic attitude’ and enlivened the very fabric of music, by infusing it with rhythmic freedom. The ABO responded with great élan.
Highlights were Associate Concertmaster violinist Matt Bruce notably contributing to the glories of the lilting melody and the Baroque guitar underpinning everyone as played with prolonged and quietly passionate intensity by Tommie Andersson, emphasising the music’s spiritual qualities.
Superbly played overall by this impressive ensemble of individual musicians working together so well as a whole, this was an elegant repast, one that fed into our ideas and feelings about relaxation and ease, putting us all ‘in the mood’ for what was to follow.
What more can anyone say about the music of Antonio Vivaldi that hasn’t been already said before; indeed I always feel speechless when listening to works like his Concerto for violin in D major, Grosso mogul, RV 208.
The very mention of Vivaldi’s name for many conjures up ideas of magic, as through his works he gave excited musicians something to obsessively theorise over while he struggled with the vicissitudes of his own life as a creative.
Audiences in our age have learned to wallow in the sheer brilliance of his seductive sounds, which are in reality amazingly complex. This was demonstrated clearly by the virtuoso playing of ABO Concertmaster Shaun Lee-Chen, who left everyone entirely speechless following his stunning solo.
Truly a star from the west (Lee-Chen is artist in residence at the University of Western Australia), it seemed as if he was committed to changing the landscape of the east with the fervour of his playing.
Music is an advocate for philosophical truth in the right setting, bringing the unspoken word to life with a resounding sermon of sound. The audience were listening well, and they truly appreciated his technical expertise of a solo that Vivaldi was reported as playing himself on a visit to Venice in 1715, such was its difficulty.
I couldn’t help thinking how Dame Elisabeth Murdoch (1909-2012) would have been bowled over by his improvisation, which resonated so superbly in the acoustically wonderful recital hall that she left to posterity.
The German composers Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767) and John Friedrich Fasch (1688 – 1758), loved a bit of pomp and ceremony as well as ordered reason.
They also understood unbridled virtuosity as they wanted to sway the hearts, minds and spirits of individuals into various dispositions. They importantly had German theologian Martin Luther (1483-1546) on their side and he observed that ‘…next to the word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in this world, a notion that has impacted on musicians and composers for centuries since.
The Grand Concerto in D Major by Telemann was in the ‘grand manner’ of the Baroque style, full of energy and the wonderful layering of the musical textures the era is renowned known for; rich, eloquent and always inspiring.
It was playful in parts, pompous in others and poignant overall, paying tribute to both the French and the Italian styles with sounds of unparalleled intensity.
For me this piece served to demonstrate why Baroque music became an important aspect of the ‘inner man’ (man used in the context of ‘human’), one who strove to enhance their intellectual wealth while practicing their social graces and nurturing their spirit and soul.
Do beauty and love always go hand in hand? Well in the world of music of times past and present it can, especially when played with dazzling brightness by the marvelous musicians of the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra.
After interval it was time for a dash more Vivaldi, with his haunting contrasts of sound, revealing why from the archiepiscopal city of Salzburg to the imperial court at Vienna, from the northern reformers to the English eccentrics and American colonists, in the eighteenth century the western world went mad about music.
J’adore the Baroque French Horn, so rarely highlighted, but brilliantly so here in Vivaldi’s Concerto for several instruments in F major, played with such conviction and feeling by Darryl Poulsen and Dorée Dixon. Bravo.
Earlier this year the ABO brought the recorder brightly back into the arena of contention as an appealing instrument with an evocative language of its own.
They revealed how a medieval instrument could sound when played as a showstopper in the hands of virtuoso international recorder revolutionary Maurice Steger, giving their audience a whole new appreciation for its contribution to the evolution of music.
This next piece was for many I would suspect, the most marvellous of the night; Telemann’s Concerto for flute and recorder in E minor which had the power to drive away sadness and to make people happy.
The unusual pairing of soloists by Telemann was interpreted so brilliantly by Melissa Farrow on Flute and Mikaela Oberg on Recorder. Together they ensured the wonderful changes in tone and colour that permeated the world of Baroque music, with its leaps of loveliness and deep passions and affections, were gloriously revealed.
Interesting to note that Melissa was a teacher for Mikaela at one point; so we enjoyed the Master and Disciple playing in tune – wondrous.
This was indeed music of and for the heart and soul, rather than external splendour. It was deeply emotional and indeed eloquent in its story telling. The sweet harmony of its sadness was driven away by the final movement, a stunning Polish folk dance.
Impetuous ardour would provide a fitting fanfare in Fasch’s Concerto in D Major, which saw the orchestra, with trumpets blazing and drums pounding, bring this very special concert to a captivating close with another solo by Shaun Lee-Chen received with rapturous applause.
Throughout the concert the ABO provided an optimal tonal environment, one in which the audience were able to indulge the fantasies of the mind. They sent us out wondering is beauty only skin deep or was there more for us to discover about its concepts?
Being taught appreciation for music is one of the aims of the ABO and under the baton of Paul Dyer it’s a very special experience. My youthful companion on the night, who is relatively new to the glories of the Baroque and the ABO commented following the show. “I wish he would take up the microphone before every piece, as he explains everything so well… and, he is also so entertaining“, she said.
How can so many things be beautiful when they are also so entirely dissimilar? The answer is that we will all just have to keep coming back for more if we want to really know all the answers.
Paul Dyer before the concert succinctly noted, ‘the audience sometimes just wants to hear the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra play’… I would venture to say that after Blazing Baroque, any newcomers on the night would have certainly known why.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2016
Artistic Director and Conductor Paul Dyer
Shaun Lee-Chen 2016 Concertmaster
July 30, 2016, Melbourne Recital Centre, Elisabeth Murdoch Recital Hall
Sammartini Overture to opera Memet, J-C 88
Vivaldi Concerto for violin in D major, Grosso mogul, RV 208
Telemann Grand Concerto in D major, TWV deest
Vivaldi Concerto in F major for several instruments RV 569
Telemann Concerto in E minor for flute & recorder, TWV 52:e1
Fasch Concerto in D major, FWV L:D4a