Much-acclaimed American virtuoso violinist Shunske Sato was a guest of the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra during 2016, addressing the ‘pleasures of the imagination’ together with resounding success.
His breathtaking playing, most especially composer Niccoló Paganini’s Violin Concerto No 4 under the baton of artistic director Paul Dyer AM, produced an outstanding array of technical pyrotechnics on a gut stringed instrument, causing the audience to go completely wild showing their appreciation.
The resultant album of music that has emerged since their collaboration The Romantics, Grieg | Mendelssohn | Paganini, not only showcases Shunske Sato’s prodigious talent, but also proves the wonderful depth and breadth of the combined talent and commitment members of the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra (ABO) have to their musical craft.
In a word, The Romantics, a first for the ABO playing music of this ear is a breathtaking recording. Personally, I found it completely compelling listening, especially having been in the audience in Melbourne experiencing the joy of their playing with Shunske Sato in concert first hand.
ABO musicians are in their element, under the auspices of their renowned founder and conductor Paul Dyer. They are at heart all romantics with an emphasis on emotion and individualism, which fuses brilliantly when they come together and make truly beautiful music.
When you add a great virtuoso violinist such as Shunske Sato into the equation, you enter into the realms of ‘completely sublime’ as an authentic source of aesthetic experience. If ever you could feel as if you had died and gone to heaven while still being alive, this is the recording that will evoke that type of response.
The quality of the performance is truly exceptional, and you can close your eyes and feel as if you are there.
Listening to it in a room, whose light has been softened by candlelight while you imbibe on your favourite beverage, could become about as dangerous as the playing. Sato takes risks that are so brave and completely overwhelming in their beauty. They could daringly be described as the closest thing to a musical orgasm as you will ever get.
It’s not surprising for most of the time the ABO play music that emerged during a period in its evolution known as the Baroque (1600 – 1750) when composers all over the western world with great creativity and in the grand manner, achieved a synthesis of musical melody, powerful performances of sensuous beauty and soaring vitality
For me the natural progression of the Baroque age in music is the age of the Romantics, that time when reformers and revolutionaries, poets, painters and polite society were so infused with a desire for change, they actually stepped up to the plate, and made it happen.
The music they preferred is full of energy, complexity and colour and while it favours classicism, it also eradicates boundaries and defies architectural logic. It is about opposing forces, an age in which themes become important with its literary orientation favouring vocal sounds, while instrumentally the music shouts out their message with a loud voice
As Dyer points out in the accompanying leaflet to the ABO’s new recording The Romantics, the early nineteenth century in Europe was not an era for music with soft, dreamy connotations as the world romantic often conjures up today, but one during which the pursuit of passion became an important and meaningful activity for many.
Musical achievement certainly reached new heights of pathos and lyricism, which when combined with the logic of harmony and tone by some of the world’s great composers, delivered compositions of such great conviction they were entirely seductive.
Three great men were integral to that development, Edvard Grieg (1843-1907), Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) and Niccolò Paganini (1782- 1840) all of whom evoked ideas of what a creative genius could be and embedded it in popular imagination.
Represented on this album Grieg’s sensational From Holberg’s Time – Suite in the Olden Style, Op 40, Mendelssohn’s String Symphony No 3 in E minor, MWV N3 and Paganini’s Violin Concerto No 4 in D Minor, MS 60.
Grieg’s Holberg suite… never feels to me as if it is in an ‘olden style’, vital, relevant and extremely affecting. I find that by harking back to an exploration of the medieval soul Grieg gifted a way forward for the contemporary listener, providing a vehicle to explore his own inner well being through lyricism and tender moments of quiescence.
German composer, pianist, musical conductor and teacher Felix Mendelssohn while opening up wide perspectives and balancing proportion to present poetical works to those who championed refined taste, ennobled musical craftsmanship with effortless elegance.
Considered the founder of modern Danish and Norwegian literature he continued the connection between music and literature, so vital to the romantic era. He composed works that display not only lyrical qualities but also convey a sense of romantic wonder and he inspired French composers of the 20th century who clearly admired his grace and perfection of style. A gifted musician with many sides to his personality and professional abilities, Mendelssohn operated at a level of excellence and at the very essence of classical music.
He was praised for his music and indeed became one of the most popular of all the nineteenth century composers, particularly in England where he visited no fewer than ten times.
Queen Victoria herself loved his works. He met her and Prince Albert at Buckingham Palace in 1843, no doubt enjoying the encounter. His wedding march made him famous and performances of it still played today in churches all over the Commonwealth countries, originate from him playing it at the wedding of the Princess Royal.
His String Symphony No 3 in E Minor MWV N3, comprising of three movements Allegro di molto (Performing at an extremely fast tempo), Andante (moderately slow tempo) and Allegro (brisk and lively), as performed on this CD exalts and elevates the imagination.
Lyrical, flowing and frequently performed after it premiered in Leipzig in 1845, this recording shows why with Sato’s playing and improvisation. It is lively, vibrant and joyous.
The final work by Niccolò Paganini his Violin Concerto No 4 in D minor, MS 60 in three movements, reveals why the composer had such great success in Vienna, Paris and London, with his tour of England and Scotland in 1832 making him a wealthy man.
His violin technique required new methods of fingering and tuning and technically, Paganini was also very innovative. His breathtaking virtuosity was renowned.
Above all he excelled at ‘artistic pleasantries’, his three movements in this Concerto in their turn, majestic, tearful and cheerful as with great elan, he runs up and down scales with great fluidity while never losing the dance-like quality of the music.
The Romantic age embraced the ideals of classicism and sanctified a life that when viewed from idealistic heights gave it a permanence, which became identified with peace in Europe, was not only about law and order, but also about the nature of freedom.
Paul Dyer should feel well satisfied that his decision to pair the astonishing playing of violin virtuoso Shunske Sato with his much cherished Australian Brandenburg Orchestra has with just the right dash of flamboyance, created an album that resonates long after the last note is spent. It’s truly a five star experience.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2017
Grieg | Mendelssohn | Paganini
Australian Brandenburg Orchestra | Shunske Sato
Available as a CD at ABC Shops | Download on iTunes