Australian Romantic & Classical Orchestra | Illuminate
City Recital Hall, 19 February, 2021
Could it really be happening – I was sitting in front of a stage about to hear real live music. Of course absence makes the heart grow fonder and particularly when the concert in question featured the Australian Romantic & Classical Orchestra.
An enticing programme featuring strings and voice started with Bruch’s rarely heard Serenade after Swedish Melodies. A march was an excellent way to get things swinging and this was followed by two movements based on love songs encompassing a dance-related Allegro. To be honest, I don’t think I would have picked the origin but this is probably because most classical Scandinavian references are to Norwegian and Finnish themes which are very different from Swedish. Very relaxing and engaging, as is most of Bruch’s music.
The centrepiece of the concert was Britten’s Les Illuminations, a song cycle based on a poem cycle of the same name by Arthur Rimbaud, an Oscar Wilde-like character who would have had greater fame had he not died young as an aesthetic visionary addicted to opiates. Britten wrote the cycle for his good friend Sophie Wyss although the role was taken over by his lifelong partner Peter Pears whose voice Britten found less conventional and suitable for the ethereal nature of the poetry. It is perhaps surprising that Britten chose such a medium for such an exhaustive subject but he brings it off in spades.
Contrasts abound with the busy city rhythmic life of Villes followed by the visionary tone of Phrase and the vaudeville character of Royaute. I particularly enjoyed the soprano voice intertwining with the pizzicato playing of the strings in Antique. Jacqueline Porter’s singing was sublime and she had obviously studied the fervent and subliminal nature of the poetry closely. I wonder if Britten had studied Canteloube’s songs of the Auvergne – quite different in character but displaying the same brilliant integration of voice and orchestra.
After this sumptuous work, we all needed a break and then followed Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence, a piece written in Italy but with no reference to its place of origin, arranged for string orchestra by Lucas Drew. Very energetic in character with the last two movements being based on Russian folk tunes and also containing references to his own Serenade for Strings and Swan lake. An exhilarating way to finish a superb evening of mostly unfamiliar but uplifting music.
The Australian Romantic & Classical Orchestra plays to a very high standard. Its musicians are hand picked as are the grapes selected by Penfolds for Grange. Rachael Beesley’s over the top enthusiasm is clearly infectious. In addition we were treated to a fascinating pre-concert talk by musician and educator Neal Peres Da Costa who emphasised the difference in orchestral styles between now and the turn of the twentieth century. For example, in an adaptation of Chopin’s famous Nocturne in E flat, Mischa Elman used vibrato, sliding and huge tempo variations which highlights how these expressive devices nowadays are being heard again from this excellent orchestra. Illuminating!
Photography: Robert Catto