Philippe Jaroussky & Brandenburg Baroque – Sublime Sounds

The Australian Brandenburg Orchestra, together with soloists voice, Philippe Jaroussky and violin, Shaun Lee-Chen, made marvellous music in Sydney recently during a concert of such sublime sounds that it ensured heaven really did meet earth.

It was entirely fitting that a Baroque music concert resonated so brilliantly in the acoustically wonderful ‘Angel Place’ recital hall. Anyone attending would not have been sure if they had actually died and gone to heaven, such was the intensity and integrity of the experience.

International French opera countertenor superstar Philippe Jaroussky was brilliant; breathtaking, passionate, pure and pitch perfect. Dressed in a black dinner suit with an open necked black shirt, he was the very epitome of French chic and style as he delivered a solid repertoire of early music arias and compositions renowned for their beauty of form.

Some of the arias were so amazingly beautiful at times it seemed entirely inappropriate to breathe at all.

Jaroussky was also wonderfully animated, his virtuosity outstanding. He had the ability to fill the hall with such emotion that it was entirely palatable and completely extraordinary. He drew you in and held you captive all the time he was on the stage.

Co-founder, Artistic Director and Harpsichordist Paul Dyer AO and members of the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra were all in fine form and huge smiles abounded before, during and after the show.

The excitement before it began was palatable both in the foyer and in the hall. Dyer and his whole team invested their heart and souls into this production, which was entirely evident through the beautiful music they made.

The fine playing that accompanied Jaroussky and Chen, set a magical scene of energetic enchantment.

For me there are also not enough superlatives in the world to describe what it was like to be there on opening night. It was a fluke really, my being in Sydney at all at that time and then to log onto the Brandenburg’s website at the last minute and to find a single seat available in row seven; well, sometimes it seems it pays dividends if you fly solo.

There is truly nothing like the sounds of the Baroque period of music, especially when it is played on the authentic instruments the compositions were originally designed for.

Shaun Lee-Chen’s solo debut playing “L’Arte del Violino” was indeed impressive.

This violin concerto was composed by the Italian born Dutch based music master Pietro Antonio Locatelli (1695-1764) and it proved a marvelous showcase for Shaun’s instinctive virtuoso style.

The audience was made up mostly of subscribers, who enjoyed seeing him step out from within the team to perform on his own for the first time, and they received his playing very well, with much stamping and cat calling.

After he dazzled everyone it did seem hard for people to settle afterwards.

Just as the composer Locatelli created a sensation in Europe, wherever he traveled during the 18th century, Lee-Chen’s fingering technique never faltered once as he masterfully surmounted the extraordinary challenges the composer had set his player colleagues and those who followed after.

Locatelli is the composer who is accredited with extending both the repertoire and range of music for the violin and is considered the founder of modern instrumental virtuoso violin playing.

Philippe Jaroussky sensitively rendered the poetic and joyous compositions of eighteenth century composers German born London based George Friderick Handel (1685-1759) and Italian born Nicolo Porpora (1686-1768) and his performance throughout the evening was entirely delicious.

As Dyer explained, these two giants of the 18th century music scene in Europe became locked in a rivalry that thrilled fashionable audiences for a time in London between 1733 and 1736, when they were both heading up rival opera houses.

They also featured the two most famous of Italian castrati, who were also renowned rivals.

They were Carlo Maria Michelangelo Nicola Broschi (1704-1782), known simply as Farinelli and, Giovanni Carestini (c1704-1760). Both were held in high regard across Europe by the critics of their day.

Visiting European musicians came to London a great deal during the eighteenth century and it caused librettist Paolo Rolli to comment: “Farinelli has surprised me so much that I feel as though I had hitherto heard only a small part of the human voice, and now have heard it all. He has besides, the most amiable and polite manners …”

Farinelli, a superstar castrato of his day sang for Porpora and even though he was both feted and admired the ‘Opera of the Nobility’ that he sang for became enmeshed in a mire of gossip, hostility and the hubris that surrounded members of the royal family and their supporters. Despite Farinelli’s participation the company eventually went bankrupt.

Philippe Jaroussky demonstrated, through a wise selection of simply superb arias by Handel and Porpora, his extraordinary ability to perform like a ‘coloratura’ soprano, producing brilliant runs and trills, ornamenting the glorious phrases of music and colouring them beautifully.

The concert proved that Jaroussky is a superstar in the world of contemporary classical music, as indeed were the composers in their time. There is no doubt in my mind he will join into their legendary status as he brings their music alive again once more, making it relevant and vital for a new age.

While there was a sea of ‘grey’ hair, except for one or two people nearby, I was entirely surrounded by young people (under 30) and they were all having as good a time as I was, which was very heartening to see.

The concert opened with the orchestra playing the majestic Ouverture, the lively Allegro and the charming graceful minuet, all from the oratorio Deborah HWV51 by Handel.

What a genius Handel was.

Born at Halle in Prussia, by the time he was seven he was performing on the harpsichord and organ and began composing aged nine. His extensive body of works includes some fifty operas; a large amount of church music, twenty-three oratorios and the much-loved instrumental works the Water and Fireworks Music.

Jaroussky sang the Aria ‘Agitato da fiere tempeste’ from the pasticcio Oreste HWV A11 and, as you would expect from its title, it was all about emotional turmoil.

Tossed by fierce storms,
If the helmsman can see his star
He feels that all will be well

The orchestra played the Allegro, Alla Hornpipe and Menuet from the Water Music Suite in D Major HWV 349 half way through the first act, providing Jaroussky with a pause to catch his breath.

This was the piece of music that England’s King George I liked so well, ‘that he caus’d it to be played over three times’ the first time he heard it. It’s truly a sheer delight and the musicians of the Brandenburg played it to perfection.

Of all the pieces he sang so superbly I particularly loved Jaroussky’s rendition of the Aria ‘Mi lusinga a dolce affetto’ from the opera Alcina HWV 34, considered one of Handel’s mighty masterpieces.

While this at first this may seem a simple piece of music, it is in reality a very difficult piece to master and to sing. He performed it so effortlessly that once again, he quite took mine and indeed most of the audiences breathe completely away.

It was no wonder that after the concert was over the audience just would not stop applauding until Jaroussky offered us an encore aria; Verdi Prati by Handel, again from the opera Alcina HWV 34.

Paul Dyer announced that he had been discussing the possibility with Philippe that he comes to sing with the Australian Brandenburg every three years throughout his career, at least until Dyer’s too old to conduct.

A lot of people would be sure to support and enjoy that notion. Please put me at the top of the list.

The sublime sounds and joyous music of the Baroque ongoing. What a delightful prospect.

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle 2013.


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