MBO delivered a gorgeous performance, pleasing in every way

by | Dec 17, 2023 | Ambassador thoughts

Melbourne Baroque Orchestra | Galant Gala

December 3, 2023, Toorak Uniting Church​

Sanssouci has a handful of rooms and a huge garden full of exotic plants, pathways and fountains. Including the garden, it must be the smallest palace in Europe, and it is located in Potsdam in what was the Kingdom of Prussia.

It’s the palace Frederick the Great built and loved, and from memory the music room is the same size as the other couple of state reception rooms. His pets are also buried there, right under the window, where he could keep an eye on them. It’s grand, but small.

It’s the setting I imagined for the Melbourne Baroque Orchestra’s Galant Gala, a program put together and featuring soloist Greg Dikmans on baroque flute.

James Gaines explains in his book Evening in the Palace of Reason  how, as a boy, Frederick would dress up in French clothes, puff his hair in that style and play the flute in secret. If discovered he risked a beating – or worse – from his mad and violent father. Undeterred, his love of the flute, music and French style lasted his whole life.

For MBO’s Galant Gala, Greg Dikmans puts together a solid program that easily could have been an evening’s entertainment at the palace. CPE Bach’s Sonata in A minor for transverse flute without bass (Wq 132), and his Sonata in D major for flute and bass (Wq 131), paired with JJ Quantz (from On playing the Flute fame) Sonata in G minor for flute and bass (QV 1:126), and the Concerto in G major for flute, strings and continuo (QV 5:174).

A master of its velvety tones and playing a replica instrument of 1745, it’s obvious that Greg is right at home with the style and virtuosic demands of the music. The opening solo Sonata of CPE Bach is lyrical and, like all solo works, introspective, showing off the contrasting moody low and bright high registers of the instrument.

Greg was joined by Samantha Cohen on theorbo and Josephine Vains on a Thomas Dodd ‘cello from 1800 for the Quantz Sonata in G minor and the CPE Bach Sonata in D major. The continuo of ‘cello and theorbo gave a beautiful intimacy to the performance, really showcasing the sound of the flute and the conversational exchanges between the parts.

The Galant style is elegant, subtle and as explained by Greg, pleasing to the listener and, judging from the performance, pleasing for the performers as well. But don’t be fooled, it’s not background music, but requires your full attention. It’s polite but persuasive. It was lovely also to see the Affektenlehre noted in the program (mournful, proud, etc).

The pièce de résistance was Quantz’s Concerto in G major, performed by Greg on the low pitched flute, with strings tuned below 415 (A = 392 Hz). The MBO made every effort to make this an historically accurate performance. The soloists were joined by David Macfarlane on harpsichord, Shane Lestideau and Cameron Jamieson on violins, Dovi Hanner on viola and Ruth Wilkinson elegantly rounding out the orchestral sound on the violone.

CPE Bach and JJ Quantz are underrated composers who should be performed more often. There’s none of the dance form from earlier in the Baroque, this is intellectually pleasing music forging its way using a new language. With delightful exchanges between the parts, the MBO delivered a gorgeous performance, pleasing in every way.

Having experienced such violence and abuse at the hand of his father, including being forced to watch the execution of his male lover, perhaps Frederick found some solace and joy in these musical moments, surrounded by musicians, the composers, and a handful of favoured courtiers.

Incredible to think that some 200+ years later audiences, with their own pains and preoccupations, can enjoy this music thanks to great performers such as Greg and the MBO.

A quote from  Frederick the Great himself to finish: “We are a poor race, which is very restless during the little time it vegetates on this atom of mud called the earth. Whoever passes his days in quietness and repose until his machine decomposes, is perhaps more sensible than they who, by so many tortuous circles, spiked with thorns, descend to the grave.’ From Evening in the palace of reason by James R Gaines.

Reviewed with thanks to Dovi Hanner (Recording) and  Jonathan Lancaster (Audio).

 

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