Home-grown talent, for a change


Australian Brandenburg Orchestra

Sunday July 31, 2016

16ABO BlazingBaroque MELB opening-133

                                                                      Australian Brandenburg Orchestra

As artistic director/conductor/harpsichordist Paul Dyer pointed out in his first address on Sunday evening, this concert from the ABO featured no overseas guests but put to the forefront members of the orchestra itself, generating a congenial home-grown feel about proceedings as the ensemble worked enthusiastically through six works from the Baroque.  ‘Blazing’ is not really the adjective I would have used to typify the results, or even the group’s intentions; it suggests final curtain time in Gotterdammerung or Berlioz’s Requiem at its least penitential – but some points in this concerto-filled event proved exciting for all the right reasons.

The ABO concertmaster, Shaun Lee-Chen, was worked very hard, taking the solo line in Vivaldi’s D Major Violin Concerto, Il Grosso Mogul, then having the lion’s share of the work in the same composer’s Concerto in F Major RV 569 which also calls for pairs of oboes and horns, and finishing his work-load with Fasch’s Concerto in D Major.  The common cry is that the Italian composer’s work carries a great deal of facile passage work, indulges in repeated semiquaver patterns, employs focal melodies that don’t strain the diatonic budget.   These strictures are true, after a fashion, but all too often the solo violin is dangerously exposed for long stretches; the exponent has to operate in sections of the Mogul at a high tessitura; for example, the bariolage leading up to bar 50 of the first Allegro.

It’s not a work for the faint-hearted and Lee-Chen made a positive attack on it, crackingly paced and generally reliable in pitch with a few question-marks over the very top notes of his part – nothing that grated but a few points in an extended pattern that didn’t quite hit the centre.   Still, much appreciated was the extemporised-sounding Recitative leading into the Grave.    As for the final movement, what took attention here was an impressive bite to the company’s open D strings that emerged in the arpeggio-rich  ritornelli.  One of the concert’s chief pleasures came in the concerted enthusiastic gutsiness of the Brandenburgers in full voice.

Telemann’s Grand Concerto in D Major, the one with the unusual catalogue name TWV deest, asks for pairs of oboes (Emma Black and Kirsten Barry) and trumpets (Leanne Sullivan and Alex Bieri).  As always, you have to admire how much this fecund creator could make of a common chord, getting it to supply such vigorous material.  In the active second movement Allegro, both wind pairs impressed for the precision of their enunciation with only one suspicious blurt from an oboe and barely any spliced notes from the trumpets.   Other elements that grabbed attention were the rich, reverberant bass notes booming from Tommie Andersson‘s theorbo in the opening Spirituoso-Adagio-Spirituoso sequence, and the mobile energy of Richard Gleeson‘s timpani, notably the expressive crescendos achieved within very short bursts of notes.

I know that for most Baroque aficionados, the period-authentic horn is unremarkable, but I still find it a singular achievement that players confined to crooks can produce well-balanced, consistent lines without cracking some of the notes.   For The Vivaldi RB 569 per molti strumenti, Darryl Poulsen and Doree Dixon outlined their parts with force and an exactitude that rarely faltered, their sustained trills a sonic delight of this reading.  The addition of bassoon Peter Moore to the mix had some slight impact on the exposed woodwind sequences, but the outstanding voice was that of Lee-Chen, for whom the other soloists gave way in the brief central Grave – a 20-bar D minor siciliano with the violin a constant presence, chiefly supported by violins and violas only and here elegantly soulful in its expressiveness.

The duet work of flautist Melissa Farrow and Mikaela Oberg‘s recorder in Telemann’s E minor double concerto provided this concert’s high point; their shapely phrasing, down to mutually agreed breathing points,  exemplary in both largo and fast movements.   Also impressive was the dynamic equity of the partnership, vital in a score like this with so much dovetailing, imitation and stretches of parallel 3rds.   In fact, the performance kept on getting better, through the pizzicato-accompanied second Largo duet into the driving vehemence of the concluding Musette, with director Dyer contriving a brisk accelerando in the final ripieno bars.   This Murdoch Hall performance was recorded; and it would be worth listening to the broadcast, most particularly for this excellent, piercingly fine-spun reading  (ABC Classic FM, Thursday August 11, 1 pm).

For the Fasch concerto, Lee-Chen was joined by the two oboes and attendant bassoon, three trumpets, timpani, Andersson’s theorbo and the well-exercised Brandenburg string corps.   The upper range problem recurred in the solo violin’s E string top notes, although the rest of the player’s work proved accurate enough.   In this assertively-speaking score, if anywhere, you could find passages of burnished energy to justify the concert’s title, but the weighty orchestral force outweighed the solo violin’s carefully-spun sound-colour, so that the tutti punctuations dwarfed Lee-Chen’s output.   Yet again, we were treated to a work with a wealth of display but it needed a stronger right arm to produce a more aggressive and sustained attack.  Not exactly a disappointment, you were left with the impression that either the orchestra had been over-encouraged, or the soloist needed to lift his dynamic by several notches.