I finished my preconcert prosecco and sat back comfortably in my seat, thinking I had my evening under control. Ah, Australian Brandenburg Orchestra, ah Vivaldi. What I experienced was a challenge to think twice and then some – about my expectations of the both Antonio Vivaldi and the ABO itself.
The Vivaldi Unwired program was a tour de force, an eyes-wide-open sensual journey through the brilliance of the baroque and back. This was Vivaldi and friends, as mesmeric, intoxicating and unleashed.
Accurate and passionate, the eighteenth century comes alive at once in the first bar
It started simple, opening with Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G major, with the string players standing. Accurate and passionate, the eighteenth century comes alive at once in the first bar – images of cobbled streets horses and carriages sweeping through my mind. Simone Slattery, baroque violin, and Kirsty McCahon, baroque double bass, are transfixing as they adjust our hearing to the sound of gut-stringed instruments.
A concerto of beautiful interplay, technically demanding and powerful
In the second piece, Vivaldi’s Concerto Op. 3 No. 8 for two violins RV 522 from L’estro armonico, full force of the ABO is on stage, as Ben Dollman, baroque violin, battles it out with guest concertmaster Brendan Joyce. From Vivaldi, the man who died penniless and unknown, comes a concerto of beautiful interplay, technically demanding and powerful. The sheer energy of the players in the orchestra led from the harpsichord by Paul Dyer, is the epitome of an ensemble, coming from the time before conductors and sticks reigned supreme. Twenty six years ago, creating a period music orchestra was Paul Dyer’s radical way of reinvigorating baroque music in Australia. This concert is testimony to that quest.
Christina’s capacity to manipulate the saxophone was beautiful and uplifting
Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach’s Concerto for flute in A minor Wq 166, features Christina Leonard’s rearrangement for soprano saxophone. With grace and lyrical charm, Christina added a layer to the evening that was at once traditional and also groundbreaking for this instrument in this genre. Written for first of the harpsichord, then for the flute and then for the cello, Christina’s capacity to manipulate the saxophone into the tonal sounds and range of a flute was beautiful and uplifting and her intensity on stage drew the audience into a silence that was only equalled by the duelling violins. The deep sorrow and sadness in the Allegro assai is unsurprising when you read in the substantial program notes that CPE “believed that music should touch the heart and move the emotions.”
I’ve always felt Vivaldi was the rock god of the period this concert left me under no another impression
After the interval, MAX RICHTER’s Recomposed – Vivaldi: The Four Seasons. Where do you go with this piece after Nigel Kennedy? Think again – this dialogue between two composers, complete with Vivid-style digital visual seasons on the ceiling of the City Recital hall, and smoke effects, lifted the music into another orbit. This is not the ABO I had expected.
We inhale the brilliance of the Brendan’s violin, king amongst the fractured spotlights, and Jamie Hoy’s baroque cello. Vivaldi’s famous phrases are slowed down, recomposed, underlined by the gently supporting Moog. Is this film music or is this a contemporary ballet score? Neither. Richter reinterprets our preconceptions of Vivaldi’s most famous piece, but never in a trite way. We reframe our contemporary understanding of it, to see the piece again, as if anew.
I’ve always felt Vivaldi was the rock god of the period, the AC/DC of the baroque. Under Paul Dyer’s artistic direction, this concert left me under no another impression. How lucky Sydney is to have ABO as residents at the City Recital Hall.
Australian Brandenburg Orchestra | Vivaldi Unwired | City Recital Hall, Sydney | Wednesday 6 May