Swiss born musician Maurice Steger and the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra (ABO) delivered outstanding performances in Melbourne on Saturday evening 27th February, 2016 with a wonderful program of endearing works.
Thrilling the audience playing an essentially medieval instrument, recorder revolutionary and guest director Maurice Steger, together with the ABO delivered a showstopping performance of virtuoso early music. It was one that will long resonate beyond the splendid acoustic of the Elizabeth Murdoch Recital Hall.
It is not easy for one musician to re-instate an ancient instrument in the minds and hearts of audiences, but with rapid runs and leaps of loveliness, Maurice Steger transformed all our opinions of both the recorder and the composers who wrote for its wonderfully supple sound.
It looks such an incredibly simple instrument, but it is deceptive and very hard to ensure that it sounds beautiful. Maurice Steger seemed almost superhuman as throughout the program he played various sizes of recorders at such a level of excellence it was hard to believe.
He knew just how to WOW his audience so that they would enjoy getting in touch with their inner child. Together with an ABO on fire, he charmed, entertained and moved the audience to the very depths of their spirit and soul.
Maurice Steger took the recorder beyond what we could imagine, creating a sublimely personal musical universe as he ducked and weaved with remarkable agility.
He reminded me of Puck in medieval folklore, that impish capricious spirit, full of energy and magical fancy.
With fun-loving humour and through an evocative language of his own Steger permeated the atmosphere of a Melbourne Midsummer night, captivating everyone as he revealed his great passion for an instrument time forgot.
The joy began with a three-movement gem by the much-admired Antonio Vivaldi (1678-17141), considered perhaps the greatest Italian instrumental composer of universal significance in his day, who wrote the ‘repertoire of the heart’.
Vivaldi’s flaming imagination matched his sensational red hair, as he delivered wondrous works to the bountiful domain of ensemble music. In his hands the concerto became a passionate fresco of dramatic contrasts.
Skilfully and cleverly Maurice Steger brought to the forefront sublimely Vivaldi’s wonderful changes in tone and colour throughout his concerto in G Major, RV 443, which sparkled like the light flitting gloriously across a Venetian lagoon at sunset, full of beauty bestowed generously upon a grateful ABO audience.
You know a musician is good when other musicians applaud him as earnestly as the audience, which Steger’s colleagues from the ABO did on the night. The audience also broke with usual ‘classical music protocol’ in this first number to clap wildly and naturally between the three movements, such was the effervescence of their response.
Steger left the stage for the second work as the ABO wooed us with a truly superb rendition of a little known work by eighteenth century Venetian composer Domenico Gallo (1730-1768) who had been strongly influenced (as were many others) by that master of music Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713).
ABO principal cellist Anthea Cottee really shone alongside a stunning string section. The ABO string players are second to none, currently led by brilliant Concertmaster Shaun Lee-Chen and on this night they were all on the tip of their toes and at the top of their game as they enchanted with this Baroque stately court dance.
German born self taught composer Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767) provided another superb experience with his Concerto for three trumpets in D major. Wonderfully performed by the ABO, they spoke eloquently about music in the grand manner of the Baroque with all its passions and affections.
The work featured a splendid trio of trumpets, supported by an energised ABO, who presented this stately, almost ‘royal’ work so well that its bold harmonies and buoyant rhythms became a distinctive voice, one that felt like a form of refined luxury.
Back on stage strode Maurice Steger to dazzle us all again with his agility. This time he was playing the Sinfonia in A minor by composer Nicola Fiorenza (c1700 – 1764), four movements of great intensity that saw him flirting with a selection of individual strings alternating with the orchestra.
The final movement carried us all out the door to Interval with broad smiles and ready for animated and exciting conversation.
The moon on this late Midsummer night in Melbourne was still in its ascendancy and waiting to blind us with its glorious light as we arrived back in the auditorium to enjoy a vigorous version of the mighty Overture to the simply splendid oratorio Judas Maccabeus HWV 63 by London based German born composer George Frideric Handel (1685-1759).
This was so splendid I felt transported. It made me wish to hear the ABO play this wonderful work in its entirety, hopefully in the not too distant future.
Then Puck was back on stage and in his element, Maurice Steger, trilled away like a beautiful songbird in cheeky fashion, teasing the violins mercilessly as they echoed the recorder once more. Wondrously we all went tripping through a pastorale landscape to glorious music reflecting an Arcadian ideal that was real.
Then followed what many would believe was the piece de resistance of the night, especially for me for whom ‘early music’ is mostly sublime.
German born Philipp Jakob Rittler (1637-1690) composed a joyous Ciaccona á 7 in C major, a haunting presentation piece that saw the orchestra reduced to a chamber size, with strings, trumpets and tambourine.
Tommie Andersson led off with Baroque guitar, and the others arrived exponentially on the scene to perform their parts in thrilling style, reaching a creative climax and physically exiting the stage leaving him playing us to a gentle conclusion.
Words failed as the audience went wild.
The final piece of the program featuring the genius of Maurice Steger was the Concerto No. 10 in F major by Francesco Geminiani (1687-1762).
This has at the basis of its development the musical style of that great French composer Arcangelo Corelli, with whom Geminiani had studied. Whereas Corelli’s works were wildly fashionable and admired for their classical purity, Geminiani was willing to sacrifice their beauty of simplicity to better reflect the more emotional vibrant style of his own time.
The concerto had five distinct movements and Maurice Stegar played them all on the much larger soprano recorder known at the time as a ‘fifth flute’.
His handling of this work, followed by an equally powerfully presented encore, the Largo from Vivaldi’s Chamber Concerto in D Major, La Pastorella, left the audience in no doubt they had witnessed a very special unique event.
Under the artistic guidance of Paul Dyer, in the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra we have a virtuoso group of players that would hold their own on any international stage.
Maurice Steger: Recorder Revolutionary was a wonderful way to celebrate the beginning of the new musical year with the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra. Nothing quite like the grand manner, noble simplicity and quiet greatness of the Baroque in music – how stylish they all were.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2016