Australian Brandenburg Orchestra
Melbourne Recital Centre
Saturday September 15
In its original schedule, the ABO was to have played host this month to senior Italian baroque violinist Stefano Montanari, who promised a program that included Telemann, Vivaldi, Locatelli and those three household names – Gregori, Heinichen and Pisendel. Somewhere along the way, a few wheels fell off this arrangement and artistic director Paul Dyer had to find another musician of similar ilk – which he did in Daniel Pinteno, one of Spain’s luminaries in the field of Baroque performance and, for good measure, musicology.
The only name to survive from the original program was Vivaldi, who scored two appearances on Saturday night. While the main intention of the exercise was to present Spanish scores that most of us have never heard, the Venetian master falls under the occasion’s all-encompassing title. And it’s pretty obvious that Vivaldi’s works would have been very familiar to the major (and minor) courts of the Iberian peninsula, just as they were across Europe.
Along with two Vivaldi concertos – La Notte for flute with the ABO’s principal Melissa Farrow doing solo honours, and No. 9, the second of the D Major ones from L’estro armonico – Pinteno headed half of a Charles Avison concerto grosso, one of those that the British composer based on Scarlatti sonatas, but the rest of his offerings were complete novelties: an overture by Vicente Basset, the Concerto a 5 from Giacmo Facco’s Pensieri Adriamonici collection, a substantial overture by Felix Maximo Lopez, and a surprising C Major sinfonia by Gaetano Brunetti.
It might have been the effect of Pinteno’s preparation, or it could have been the nature of the music, but this set of (mainly) unfamiliar compositions brought out the best from the orchestra which was back treating with a school of music that emphasizes the players’ talents and substantiates their reputation as members of a first-class band of Baroque expert interpreters. Not that everything was perfect in detail but the strings and wind produced an unfailing radiance of address and emotional commitment that kept you engaged, even through several repeats.
An opening Basset overture set the interpretative direction with an arresting, biting attack from the whole body of strings, plus Dyer’s harpsichord and Tommie Andersson’s theorbo. Pinteno played/directed with an involving physicality, contributing a languid middle-movement solo before a concluding presto engaged by the ensemble with spiky aggression, carefully harnessed and distinguished by excellently disciplined terraced dynamics. Facco’s more substantial E Major violin concerto built on this foundation with a strong and voluble address in its opening Allegro, although you had to wait for the central Adagio to hear any extended solo work from Pinteno, while the finale followed the first movement’s model in giving the solo violin only short bursts of individuality. Still, you heard enough to take in the guest director’s pliancy of line which depends less on mobility of rhythm and more on milking his part of its expressive potential, handling his exposed passages like a singer bursting from the ruck.
Farrow gave a graceful, measured approach to the Vivaldi suite-concerto, her string accompaniment cut back to a 3-3-2-2-1-plus continuo format. Her sequence of trills in the initial Largo demonstrated impeccable control and projection, followed by a balancing Presto of high vivacity with the soloist subsumed into the general texture. Another Largo gave Farrow an opportunity to highlight her supple, carefully controlled timbre for which she avoided unnecessary histrionics or attention-grabbing gasps, again followed by a Presto with some unexpected room for solo exposure. The final two movements followed this slow-fast pattern, the three Il sonno pages a nice study in stasis, while the finale yielded the concerto’s most interesting activity, not least for a sparkling duet involving the flute and Pinteno’s violin from bars 166 to 177.
Concluding the first half, the Lopez Overtura con tutti instrumenti brought a clutch of wind players on-stage: pairs of oboes and horns, along with Brock Imison’s bassoon, Pinteno increased his strings to about 20 but the composer gave his brace of oboes plenty of exposure, both Emma Black and Kirsten Barry entering the lists with impressive panache. Indeed, the wind added a piquancy to what is a melodically ordinary construct and handled their responsibilities with very few minor glitches from the horns and only a handful of questionable intonation question-marks at cadential points from the oboes.
Pinteno enjoyed some solo work in this score as well. Despite the interest of his well-proportioned output, he seems to have the occasional pitching problem, almost suggesting that he’s trying on a different temperament to his surrounds. It didn’t happen often, this deviation; just enough to make you wonder if he was over-working his output. Without doubt, he showed complete involvement in the work at hand and was no fly-in, fly-out guest, taking part in everything programmed, keeping a firm hand on his forces in this Lopez work’s final Allegro that became a rondo with two unexpected minuet inserts for metrical contrast and relief of tension.
Any questioning of Pinteno’s articulation disappeared in his post-interval account of Vivaldi’s D Major Concerto from L’estro armonico. Here was aggressive, button-bursting work peppered with crisp solos in the outer movements, while the Larghetto revealed a master’s hand in splendidly controlled trills peppering what is almost continuous solo playing between the first four and last five bars; the overall impression here for me was a sort of curvaceous angularity, Pinteno’s delivery intensely sympathetic, enough to make this the night’s high-water mark and a clear-enough explanation of why Dyer chose this musician to take charge of his ABO.
For reasons best known to themselves, the body settled on presenting only the first half of Avison’s D Major Concerto grosso: the second of the four in D of his Op. 6 set of 12 based on Scarlatti sonatas. The opening Largo came across with lordly assurance, a striding post-Handelian strut to its progress, while the succeeding Con furia brought into play lots of virtuoso scampering which showed no sign of letting-up though both its halves were repeated.
The winds returned for Brunetti’s Il Maniatico sinfonia for which the ABO’s principal cello Jamie Hey took on the designated role of the composer’s ‘maniac’ who has to be brought into line by the rest of the players. As it turned out, the solo cello’s mania turned out to be an ongoing trill or a repeated figure of a 2nd which the solo line stayed with throughout most of the four movements, an idee fixe going nowhere.
This score made a sterling match with the Lopez overture that concluded the evening’s first half, both for its compositional felicity – if not originality – and its size. The difference between this and pretty much everything else on the program was its Classic period self-aplomb, with a broader melodic ambit than its predecessors in this night;’s work. You could tire quite easily of the manic 2nds from the cello, Brunetti having locked his protagonist into a monotonous personality; but the orchestral bracketing showed a brand of sophistication that opened up a new compositional prospect – like hearing Haydn after Geminiani.
After some recent disappointments, I found this concert served as a refreshing reminder of the ABO’s concerted talents when negotiating works from across the Baroque, and the players’ remarkable ability to enter into works that – in some cases – have been left untouched for centuries until Pinteno and his collaborators came along to resurrect them, Indeed, I doubt that the visiting violinist could have found a group more talented and committed to assisting him in his undertaking which, far from being a dry-as-dust musicological exercise, whetted the appetite for more similar unveilings. Dyer and his organization would do well to bring this musician back to us in the not-too-distant future.