Queensland Baroque: Radiance shone brightly through a drizzly Brisbane afternoon on Sunday. The concert took listeners on a musical journey, rediscovering the Baroque period. The lush melodies radiated through the historic church, as the sunlight struggled through the stained-glass windows.
Queensland Baroque was founded in 2018 as an orchestra for Baroque lovers with period-style instruments. Queensland Baroque is only in its second season, but has already performed widely. The ensemble is formed of twenty musicians of varying ages, who play violin, viola, cello, bass, harpsichord, recorder, bassoon and trumpet. They use replica Baroque instruments, or modern instruments with Baroque bows and gut strings. John Foster, Artistic Director, conductor and trumpeter, said the group strives to bring the old music to life for a modern audience: “Queensland Baroque is blazing a trail of historically informed performances to audiences that deserve to have an authentic musical experience.”
The concert featured works by Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, Monteverdi, Melani, and others, presenting some of the ‘greatest hits’ of the Baroque era. The concert was held in St Andrew’s Uniting Church, Ann St, Brisbane, with its crisp, ringing acoustics. The pipe organ stood dormant, watching. Previously, I had only been to this venue to perform with my university string group, rather than to listen. Tucked on a busy corner, with trains and traffic rushing past, this historic cathedral was a fitting location for centuries-old music.
The program opened with an orchestral rendition of Telemann’s Sinfonia Suite, in four movements. The performers moved together, bowed together, breathed together. The sensitivity and strong use of dynamics in this piece set the tone for the whole concert. As an amateur musician myself, I loved seeing the professionalism and real synchronisation between the players.
After Telemann, the guest soprano was invited to the stage. Anna Sandström had flown in from Sydney, rehearsed for a few days, and then performed. Her voice resounded through the cathedral, soaring to great heights like a bird; ethereal, free. Sandström performed two arias by Alessandro Scarlatti, accompanied by Foster on Baroque trumpet and the ensemble.
Bach was next, of course. Two sonatas, BWV 182 and BWV 208: Sheep May Safely Graze. Two recorders played the light, fluttering melody, like two swallows on a wire. After my experience screeching on a recorder in primary school, it was a relief to hear the instrument sound so beautiful. Sandström’s vocals and the recorder melody blended in and out in a call and response, while select ensemble members joined in the background.
Then came Handel, three arias: Tra le Fiamme (Between the Flames), Laschia ch’io pianga (Let me Cry) andLet the bright Seraphim. Sandström’s voice, accompanied by harpsicord and trumpet, took the main fore. Strings burst in and out. Bass droned in the background, in a typical Baroque technique of basso continuouso. Then, interval.
In the second half, after a quick coffee, the orchestra reassembled for a Sinfonia by Tomaso Albinoni, in three movements. After some more Handel, Sandström’s powerful, reaching voice and Foster’s trumpet delivered Monteverdi. And then, a Vivaldi sonata. Vivaldi’s lively, vibrant spring, as always, bringing back childhood memories of attending the symphony orchestra. Vivaldi is known for his bright string melodies, full of flourishes, trills, and ornamentation, set in a frantic tempo. The lead violins really handled this piece with confidence and energy.
Finally, to close off the concert, Queensland Baroque performed the cantata, All’armi, pensieri, by Alessandro Melani. John Foster, the conductor, said this piece had been lost in a cupboard for centuries, and had not been heard since it was written in the 1700s. This was a world premiere, never performed before… well, in Brisbane, at least. This piece featured Sandström’s vocals and Foster on Baroque trumpet, taking turns of the melody.
In all, a pleasurable concert with a dynamic and rich program. The performers had a strong rapport with each other and blended well with Sandström. The only disappointment was the small audience to appreciate all their hard work.
Attending Queensland Baroque was a thoroughly enjoyable experience, worth trekking through the rain for. The ensemble presents a unique, authentic sound, bringing centuries-old music to a new generation.