English Baroque with Circa, in the exquisite Elisabeth Murdoch Recital Hall, Melbourne on Saturday 18 May at 7:00pm, proved to be an outstanding concert on the program the acclaimed Australian Brandenburg Orchestra (ABO) are presenting throughout their thirtieth anniversary year.
Early music and Baroque music from both Europe and England is not only clever in conception, but also full of poetic feeling and lyricism in execution, while at its heart harmonious sounds resonate seductively, winning me continually to its favour, as it did here through a thrilling, often awesome, stand-out performance.
Delightful, amusing, amazing and magical, this exceptional concert, following on from a theme established with Spanish Baroque with Circa in 2017 and French Baroque with Circa in 2015, showcased the rich musical heritage we celebrate in Australia, thanks to the success of our multiculturalism.
The feats of strength both physical and mental employed by the multi-talented Circa performers, Ela Bartilomo, Scott Grove, Gerramy Marsden, Alice Muntz, Noah Nielsen, Giulia Scamarcia and Jake Silvetro quite blew us away.
We were most especially buoyed up by the beauty and joy of the wondrous music performed, as all players together offered us a vision of polished, powerful, extravagant and yet graceful forms.
The concert was dazzling, delightful, a fabulous festive feast delivered with flair and humour, more in the tradition of a seventeenth century English masque in an intimate setting. It was marvelous in conception, masterful in performance, while exploring the possibilities of musical and human form through both virtuosity and ornament.
The audience were both amazed and delighted by the sheer athleticism and supreme talents of the Circa performers, laughing, crying out with joy throughout the ninety-minute concert, which wizzed by until ending dramatically with the audience rising to their feet with a roar.
What is required of the people involved in such a success is a passion for performance, the ability to go beyond the boundaries we all set ourselves in the pursuit of excellence, plus a liberal dash of je nais se quoi.
These qualities were evident throughout this stunning performance. Australian Brandenburg Orchestra musicians added a richness and deep tonality to the performance of the music originally designed to play on their period instruments.
Some were dashingly dressed in plush velvet jackets, adding to the visual luxury; they included Shaun Lee Chen, Matt Bruce and Ben Dollman on Baroque Violin, Tommie Andersson on Theorbo/Baroque Guitar, Monique O’Dea on Baroque Viola, Jamie Hey on Baroque Cello, Rob Nairn on Baroque Bass, with Melissa Farrow and Mikaela Oberg on Baroque Flute and Recorder. They were joined by Nicholas Pollock, on Baroque Guitar/Theorbo, Hannah Lane on a Baroque Harp, with Brian Nixon on Percussion.
The brilliance of the program presented came about through a powerful combination of their creative talents and the committed collaboration of the Artistic Director Paul Dyer AO and his musicians of the together with Yaron Lifschitz Artistic Director of CIRCA, and his performers. Together they brought forth collaboratively, an extremely fine example of the supreme art of entertainment.
Working with them all were Benjamin Knapton, Associate Director, Libby McDonnell Costume Design, Peter Rubie Lighting, and with Set Design by Yaron Lifschitz, Libby McDonnell and Richard Clarke.
Soprano Jane Sheldon who added a further dimension to the proceedings certainly has a pure tone. Her voice was just perfect for the ‘early and Baroque music’ being showcased.
It was clear and bright like a bell, ringing out with conviction and clarity, dazzling us all, especially her renditions of Handel’s De torrente in via from Dixit Dominus, Scarborough Fair and The Gartan Mother’s Lullaby.
They proved a great success with the addition of soprano Lauren Stephenson whose voice had wondrous depth, complimenting Sheldon’s own, without overwhelming.
To start proceedings a cleverly crafted creative overture by the multi-talented musical guru Alex Palmer accompanied veiled sculptures as they were carried on stage and placed on pedestals, as if to adorn a formal garden.
Coming to life to the uplifting strains of the Curtain Tune from the early opera Timon of Athens, which has its essence the words of William Shakespeare set to music by the English worthy genius who died young, composer Henry Purcell (1659-1695), the Circa performers emerged and the evening was off to a wonderful start.
Indeed except for one work by early English music specialist John Dowland, this scene featured other great works by Purcell for his opera King Arthur, guiding the beauty of the human movement of the Circa performers, while showcasing Purcell’s flair and understanding of theatre, gloriously.
In his brief life as a composer Purcell had a growing urge to explore the Baroque’s grand manner through his musical language, reaching a high point of polished and powerful forms, so evident here. His music dominated the evening with the dramatic unity of his English Baroque sounds, which ensured Henry Purcell became an original and powerful representative of the Baroque, while doing homage to the ‘lilting grace of French music’, particularly seventeenth century dance music, inspired by the works of Jean Baptiste Lully (1632-1687) for King Louis XIV at Versailles.
The pastoral poetry reflected in the choices of modern music (1563-1759) by others such as George Frideric Handel, Arcangelo Corelli, Nicola Mattais and John Dowland, was also refreshed, as medieval theatrics were revived spectacularly. This meant the viewer became integral to the performance; looking, listening and reacting with love as the music entered and became integral to the spirit of the soul.
We can but only urge the early music loving community in Brisbane to be there on Tuesday night 21st May at QPAC for the final performance This is one of those once in a lifetime-events, you will cherish in your memory for a very long time.
Do hope Italian Baroque is next on the list in two-year’s time.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2019
English Baroque with Circa
Australian Brandenburg Orchestra & Circa
Saturday May 18, 2019
Melbourne Recital Hall
Alex Palmer English Overture
SCENE ONE – THE COURT
Henry Purcell Curtain Tune from Timon of Athens, Z 632
John Dowland Behold a Wonder Here from
The Third and Last Booke of Songs or Aires
Henry Purcell Overture from King Arthur, Z 628
Henry Purcell Aire from King Arthur, Act II, Z 628 – British worthy…
Henry Purcell Hornpipe from King Arthur, Act III, Z 628
Henry Purcell How Blest are Shepherds from King Arthur, Act II, Z 628
Henry Purcell 3 Parts Upon a Ground, Z 731
SCENE TWO – THE BEDROOM
Henry Purcell Overture in C minor, Air in C minor, The Triumphing Dance from Dido & Aeneas, Z 626
Henry Purcell Ritornelle in D minor, Thanks to these lonesome vales,
Dance in D minor from Dido & Aeneas, Z 626
George Frideric Handel Gentle Morpheus, son of night from Alceste, HWV 45
SCENE THREE – THE CHAPEL
Arcangelo Corelli Concerto grosso in D major, Op. 6, No. 4: Adagio, Allegro
George Frideric Handel De torrente in via from Dixit Dominus, HWV 232
George Frideric Handel Organ concerto in G minor, Op. 4, No. 3, HWV 291: Adagio
SCENE FOUR – THE FAIRGROUND
Nicola Matteis Ground after the Scotch Humour
Traditional (arr. Alex Palmer) Scarborough Fair
Traditional Wallom Green
Henry Purcell Curtain Tune from Timon of Athens, Z 632
Traditional (arr. Alex Palmer) The Gartan Mother’s Lullaby
Traditional Hole in the Wall
Traditional The Virgin Queen
Traditional An Italian Rant
Traditional Paul’s Steeple