The final concert of the inaugural week-long Eastside Sydney Music Festival (ESMF), curated by Professor Neal Pere da Costa and supported by Sydney University, was an all-Baroque affair held at the Paddington Town Hall. It featured musicians from three groups – Ironwood, The Australian Haydn Ensemble, and The Muffat Collective – all renowned for their Historically Informed Performance practice.
Experienced violinist and director, Rachael Beesley, curated the concert program and ably led this newly-named ESMF Baroque Orchestra which consisted of 5 violins, 2 violas, 2 cellos, one double bass, and 2 harpsichords. The violinists and cellists used Baroque bows on the night. Vibrato was used sparingly by the string players, as was the norm in the Baroque period, producing music of great tautness and clarity.
The concert commenced with Vivaldi’s Sinfonia from L’Olimpiade RV 725, featuring rollicking ritornellos and dramatic dynamic changes in the opening movement. Typically, the work consisted of 3 movements, fast-slow-fast. The tempo of both fast movements was beautifully paced and well-controlled.
Neapolitan Nicola Porpora, a contemporary of Handel and teacher of the great countertenor, Farinelli, composed his biblical oratorio, Il Gedeone, or Gideon, in 1737. The orchestra played the Sinfonia, a slow and stately Adagio and elegant Spiritoso Andante, from the second part of the oratorio as a segue into Englishman Charles Avison’s Concerto Grosso in D minor No. 5, one of 12 arranged from Domenico Scarlatti’s harpsichord sonatas. The 4-movement slow-fast-slow-fast work featured dazzling solo lines by Beesley, particularly in the final movement.
After Interval, we were greeted with more Vivaldi, his Sinfonia from Orlando Furioso RV 728 and his Concerto in G from La Stravaganza Op. 4 No. 3 RV 301. The latter work, after which the concert was named, displayed more of Beesley’s virtuosity, including plenty of fast and furious circular bowing, particularly in the outer movements. The middle movement, Largo, featured a very melodious solo from Beesley, accompanied mainly by the upper strings. Beesley’s performance compared favourably with that of Baroque violin specialist, Rachel Podger, who released an excellent 2CD set of La Stravaganza Op. 4 some years ago.
Violinists Beesley and Matthew Greco duelled gracefully in Corelli‘s lively 4-movement Sonata a quattro in G minor WoO 2.
For the final work in the program, Handel’s Concerto No. 3 HWV 288, harpsichordist and Artistic Director of the ESMF Festival, Peres da Costa, took to the stage. There was interesting interplay between Beesley’s solos and the rest of the orchestra in the first movement Andante, a lyrical second movement Adagio with a number of trills, and a lengthy final movement Allegro that fittingly allowed Beesley and the orchestra to finish with a flourish.
The venue, a Victorian Free Classical building, built in the late 1800s and re-decorated in the early 1930s in Art Deco fashion, was most appropriate for such a splendid concert and the musicians were shown the audience’s appreciation throughout the night.