Superstar Montanari, Master of the Baroque – Sounds Sublime

Twice this year the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra and their guest artist have taken my breath completely away. On Saturday 27th July in the Melbourne Recital Hall guest artist and director Italian Baroque violin virtuoso soloist and superstar Stefano Montanari, in a superb intimate interplay between musicians and audience, made my heart stand still as well.

The orchestra were busy making their own sounds sublime, while he was poetically weaving spellbinding musical magic on his 1680 Dutch violin*.

This was performance art at its purist. Montanari’s bow was an extension of his hand, articulating dynamic rhythms punctuated loudly by the power of silence, ‘celebrating all the flair and brio of Italian Baroque music’ as promised. This concert was full of divine colour and strong sentiment, aiding a renewal of body and spirit.

“So”, I said to the crowd of people all with beaming smiles on their faces waiting to cross at the lights on the corner of Southbank Boulevarde after the show. “Would you give that concert 10 out of 10 as I did”? Absolutely, yes, without hesitation, without a doubt, was the immediate retort from a dozen or so, until NO resounded one man forcefully and hesitated as we all turned to look at him.

When he had our full attention he said softly “I would give it 15 out of 10” – aaaaaaggh we sighed in complete agreement before floating off into the night on our separate ways.

Brandenburg magic 2013 is a wonderful web woven with beautiful music from the Baroque period, one that really has to be experienced first hand to be believed, especially when played with such vitality and virtuosity.

Playing wonderful works, some not heard in Australia before by composers whose names were unfamiliar but must be held high in the realm of music genius in our world, Stefano Montanari captivated, charmed, cajoled, controlled, inspired and motivated as he drew magic from deep within his orchestral colleagues hearts and minds.

Personally he showcased Baroque violin playing as a refined fine art form.

The much acclaimed Australian Brandenburg Orchestra is usually led by its multi talented Artistic Director and musical treasure, Paul Dyer AO. However he happily took a back seat for the evening and just enjoyed himself to the full, playing his harpsichord with great brilliance while supporting his marvelous superstar. It was all pure delight.

Montanari took us high into the heavens as his violin resonated in the splendid acoustic of that beautiful architectural masterpiece of sound, the Dame Elizabeth Murdoch Recital Hall at the heart of Melbourne.

Notes that had been formed via a vibrato technique par excellence were suddenly stripped bare and presented to the audience with such exquisite purity it made many hearts physically ache from so much beauty.

What a triumph of programming and playing the whole concert was. There are not enough words I can use to describe the performance the lucky people attending enjoyed. It was truly one of those once in a lifetime experiences I will certainly hold in my memory forever.

The evening started superbly with a triumphant and purely joyous expression of the love of life with the first movement only of Italian composer Francesco Maria Veracini’s Concerto a otto stromenti in D Major.

It was a statement in ‘the grand manner’ of the Baroque, one in which every section of the orchestra is on show. Montanari’s skill as a director ensured that every player performed to the best of their ability and then some.

The composer’s skill was in giving them all a point in the piece that allowed us to hear the full resonating individual tones of their splendid period instruments.

The Baroque Viola sounded deep, rich and mellow, the cello thrilled with its versatility and vitality, the trumpets rang out loud and clear in perfect pitch, the bassoon’s hearty voice was vibrant, the Oboe’s bright and beautiful, the Theorbo the bass instrument of the lute family was rich and resonant, while the Timpani proved it was more than ‘half a pearl’ by adding great subtlety.

The violin playing was beyond compare, in the exuberant enthusiastic and energetic style of the Baroque at the height of its powers in Europe, especially at London where composers such as Veracini all flocked as its people wholeheartedly embraced the performance arts. The largest city in Europe at the time, the removal of a constant danger of treason and war had opened up new avenues of wealth, which the energy of England’s people had turned to wonderful account.

German born composer George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) was one who made the journey to London and earned himself a legendary place there in the world of music art.

His works were always a ‘celebrazione’, and in the capable hands of such marvelous musicians as here, his wonderful Concerto grosso in D Major Op.3 No 6 HWV 317 made you want to shout and stamp your feet with pure joy.

Before interval during the Adagio, the second movement in the Concerto No 4 in E Minor by Giuseppe Antonio Brescianello (1690-1758) maestro Montanari made us all hang by a thread, scarcely breathing at all before he led us gently and oh so carefully back down to earth. Montanari then sweetly added an additional work that sent us all out into the foyer in raptures.

A highlight of the evening after interval was the superb playing by flautist Melissa Farrow, whose delicate interpretation stood proud as a lovely lilting lyrical light singing voice among the world of strings playing the lush Concerto in E Minor by George Phillip Telemann.

She looked wonderful too, a tall graceful girl with high cheekbones her hair swept up high wearing a simple black dress of a form that also attested to her innate taste and sensibility for both style and beauty, especially of the music she was performing.

She was like fine wine, sophisticated yet without pretension; supremely subtle and in tune with all those around her, yet able to stand out because of her interpretive brilliance, which was set off against a backdrop of purity and perfection.

The lovely banter back and forth between Montanari’s Baroque violin and Farrow’s fine Baroque flute was spellbinding.

The Baroque Violins led by Montanari played at the top of their form, his inspiring presence elevating them all to a realm of excellence that showed on all their faces.

Montanari is not a static performer, his body moves with grace and purpose as he plays, and his occasional foot stamp with his trademark black biker boots at just the right moment added both polish and flair.

As he almost pirouettes en point, Montanari is completely charismatic as he coaxes and cajoles everyone around him to contribute and the audience to completely buy into his character driven celebration of life.

The rendering of the La Folia theme by Francesco Geminiani (1687-1762) as a whole was like a beautiful dance, one where all the movements of the music flowed into each other to create a beauty of harmony that was always breathtaking. In the section where Geminiani allows the solo violinist to improvise, Montanari excelled.

The final two movements of the Concerto a otto strumenti in D Major by Francesco Maria Veracini that had started the concert were like the icing on the cake, well so we thought until after thunderous and rapturous applause he agreed to treat us to an encore.

One can only hope that Paul Dyer and his colleagues continue to invite the bike riding superstar Stefano Montanari back to Australia for many more such memorable experiences in the future.

Hopefully they will all also record this landmark program for posterity. Music of such renowned excellence offers us a sound that connects with the human soul to soothe, to motivate and to lift it up so that it can enter a place of both grace and contemplation.

To top it all off the maestro presented two movements from the Concerto Grosso Op.6 No.4 by Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713) for an encore, along with a movement from Vivaldi’s Violin Concerto RV 222.

You could have heard a pin drop in the hall as everyone held their breath and then all at once at the end, collectively let it go in an audible whisper that resonated loudly with the sound of sublime satisfaction. How glad was I to have the joy of being there.

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle 2013

*Stefano Montanari, who regularly plays with the Accademia Bizantina performs on a Dutch violin by Hendrik Jacobsz (1629-1749) the first known Luthier in the Netherlands, who worked in Amsterdam. This violin maker ranks among the greatest of seventeenth century Dutch makers and his violins receive high praise. Their tonality and resonance is really quite exceptional. Monatanari’s instrument belonged once to the French poet Alfred de Musset.

Australian Brandenburg Orchestra website

Stefano Montanari and the Accademia Bizantina website

Stefano Montenari, Melissa Farrow and Paul Dyer, Melbourne Recital Hall 2013, Image courtesy Steven Godbee Publicity Edgecliff, NSW

Images of Stefano Montenari with Australian Brandenburg Orchestra courtesy

steven godbee publicity/photography

142 New South Head Rd | Edgecliff NSW  2027, Australia
+ 61 (02) 9362 5405 | 0408 706 099

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