I have to confess something right here, at the very beginning of this review. I am, quite simply, in love with the Australian Romantic and Classical Orchestra. I say this not apologetically, but just in order to let you know what you will be in for when you go to see an ARCO performance, so that you can be well-prepared.
This, the second in the 2017 Romance programme, followed March’s ‘Italian’ with May’s ‘Unfinished’. So named, not because the evening never finished – unfortunately, it did – but because it ended with Schubert’s ‘Unfinished’ Symphony No. 8 in B minor D.759.
But before we get to the end we should start with the beginning or, since this is classical music after all, the overture. The overture, in this case, to Rossini’s famed ‘The Barber of Seville’. Australian Romantic and Classical Orchestra (ARCO), as you may remember from my previous review, play a ‘historically informed style on period instruments’. They are not the only ones, they didn’t invent the approach, but by all the gods do they appear to enjoy doing it! This overture was the perfect showcase for the differences, being instantly recognisable but at the same time, instantly not-quite-the-same as you’ve heard it before. With Richard Gill ill, ARCO were under the baton of Guest Conductor (who was to be Guest Concertmaster) Jakob Lehmann, and seemed no worse for it, not lacking in confidence or direction; Brian Nixon, my program assures me, who was so assured he literally performed half of the percussion standing on one leg!
With due acknowledgement that the rest of the performance was equally spellbinding and assured, with the Schubert a wonderful conclusion to the evening, I simply have to talk about Fiona Campbell. Yes, she has a magnificent voice of course and, except for a couple of points where the orchestra ‘talked over her’ – not because of any lack of vocal power, I might add, but simply because the orchestra didn’t come to where she was – the interplay was spot-on, voice and instruments working together beautifully. What was most delightful was that, in singing Operatic Arias from The Barber of Seville, The Italian Girl in Algiers and Cinderella, Campbell performed in those roles on stage in a restrained, but exquisite fashion. There was a paper plane thrown in to the audience, there was a tissue thoroughly used and handed back to Jakob Lehmann, there was a tiara. All were used not just as props, not as diversions, but to bring that little bit extra emotional colour and engagement as a middle line between simply standing and delivering – which would have been magnificent in itself – and fully acting the part solo on stage. It was, quite simply, wonderful.
ARCO return for the third part of their 2017 season, Revolutionary Romance, in September with performances in Blackheath, Sydney, Adelaide Hills and a return to the Melbourne Recital Centre. Mark it in your diary now, ARCO are not to be missed!