Celebrating 30 years on the world stage, in the Elizabeth Murdoch Recital Hall at Melbourne Recital Centre, Saturday March 9, 2019, the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra dazzled its Melbourne audiences, as it presented five of the wondrous six so-called Brandenburg Concertos by German composer Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750).
Named for Christian Ludwig, Margrave of Brandenburg, to whom they were presented in 1721, the concertos were meant to impress this great patron of the arts, who was known to be passionate about his music. Subsequently, they have held a special place in the history of musical achievements ever since.
My companion and I found this very special thirtieth celebration evening both breathtakingly joyous and wonderfully warm-hearted; on the night the ABO gave a powerful and personally satisfying performance, a fact confirmed by the happy expressions on all the musician’s faces, and indeed on ours as well.
Streamers flew profusely throughout the auditorium at the end, revealing just how much the musicians professionalism is appreciated by those who consider themselves fortunate to both enjoy and witness the magical moments the ABO so brilliantly provide for lovers of Baroque music.
Artistic Director and harpsichordist Paul Dyer AO intrigued us all as skilfully, with each concerto’s stunning interpretation, he boldly balanced Bach’s eloquent phrasing through the consistency of his approach. He presented each work as one of sheer beauty, hallmarked by its elegant simplicity; perhaps the most difficult of all lasting impressions to make.
Dyer and his musicians sought to honour their hero and his legacy by approaching the vast breadth of sound for each concerto as if it was being encountered for the very first time; managing to present each one as a fresh new challenge.
Acting as our guide on this journey of wonder, Paul Dyer coaxed his musicians to reveal the wide and wondrously expressive range of their talent, while satisfying their virtuoso demands. Each was individually given a moment to shine, while showing off their period instrument’s unique sounds and their technical prowess.
Dyer, as is his way, also gifted the audience with a reason to contemplate the real man behind the images we have of Bach. He can often seem a ‘dour’ fellow; his few surviving portraits failing to reveal the hidden depths behind the public mask. So if we seek to know him well we must turn to his music, which provides us with a fascinating way to approach his genius.
Bassoon to oboe, recorder and flute, French horn to viola and on to violin, cello, bass and harpsichord, while exploring the full potential of each musician and their instrument in each concerto’s form, J.S. Bach produced his completely dashing set of works in scintillating style; so much so today he is regarded as at a pinnacle of composers excelling in the creation of music for western civilization.
Originally titled Six Concerts à plusieurs instruments, the concertos have invaded the imagination of his audiences over the centuries because they admire his extraordinary ability to bring about such a remarkable synergy between nature and art.
Bach had this to say “The thorough-bass is the most perfect foundation of music… resulting in ‘a well sounding Harmonie to the Honour of God and the permissible delight of the soul”* he said.
One of the most accomplished musicians of his age, Bach’s reputation was achieved through works, both sacred and secular, which like these concertos reach out to tenderly touch our heart and soul, as we search to know what is at the essence of a good life.
The programming on the night presented the concertos in the following order – Concerto No 4 in G major, BWV 1049, Concerto No 6 in B flat major, BMV 1051, Concerto No 5 in D major, BWV 1050.
Following the interval; Concerto No 1 in F major, BWV 1046 and finally, Concerto No 3 in G major, BWV 1048.
Paul Dyer created an exciting progression for his fans and followers in terms of tempo, the works and their melodic configuration, their harmony, dance like rhythms and glorious colours.
He created a connection between movements, ensuring the conversations that took place between all the soloists playing on the night, were all the more remarkable.
He left us with a happy task; to explore the potential of the concerto form itself, which J.S. Bach so brilliantly reinvented himself with each new composition.
Number 4’s joy filled first movement was a great way to start. Shaun Lee-Chen’s dazzling virtuoso display of violin playing magnificently impressive, as he echoed the resonating sound of the recorders, taking up the theme of a Bach fugue; a work of great character.
Concerto No 6 has multiple blessings and on the night was both bright and haunting at the same time; the soloists playing perfectly, with the delicious sounds of the harpsichord like the icing on the top of our celebration cake.
Must admit I particularly love Concerto No 5 played just before Interval. While pleasantly playful, witty and brilliant, Bach gives the harpsichord a perfect place to shine with youthful eloquence.
More than special on the night, Paul Dyer’s heart was clearly connected to his hands on the harpsichord in a truly remarkable way; his solo was indeed sublime; both highly personal and passionate.
Having been involved in choirs all my life, I have been blessed to be involved in performing so much of J.S. Bach’s music over six decades, that I feel a very special connection of my own with so many of his greatest works, as well as those who enjoy to perform them, as was so obvious here.
Bach’s compositions are not only joyous to follow, but also thought provoking.
This was especially true after interval via the jaunty style of the delightful counter-melody’ in Concerto No 1, which unlike the chosen ensembles for all the other concertos, requires the full orchestra.
ABO musicians passionately performed his marvelous Concerto No 1’s beautifully inflected slow movement with great care and love and, as a whole, presented this wondrous work as being entirely luxuriant.
J.S. Bach wrote for both the church and for intimate gatherings; it took the world a century following his death to realize all he had achieved and why his works gradually have become considered ‘a classic’; of renowned excellence.
This amazing celebration of J.S. Bach’s ability to create Baroque beauty, for its grand finale performed his stunning Concerto No 3 for strings and harpsichord.
Perhaps one of J.S. Bach’s most well-known, this concerto never fails to infuse my heart with the wonder and sublime majesty of the master’s music.
J.S. Bach was indeed the crowning glory of one of musical history’s greatest chapters to date and it’s easy to see why Paul Dyer and MD Bruce Applebaum founded the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra; for the love of the music and the man, whose life spanned much of the Baroque era in music (1600 – 1750)
Long may they continue to enchant us all.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2019
*P215; Music in the Castle of Heaven, John Eliot Gardiner 2013