Riccardo Minasi, Italian Baroque violinist extraordinaire, returned to our shores after a four-year gap to play with the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra and promised a scrumptious evening of unknown Neapolitan Baroque treats. Were we rewarded? Mostly. As a fan of all things Italian and Baroque, I was looking forward to hearing some music from the peers of Vivaldi and from the land of opera in the mid-1700s. Minasi’s 330 year old Amati violin from Cremona was golden and he promised music we had not heard before in Australia.
Spanish Sinfonias and Vivaldian Virtuosity
Hats off to the fabulously dressed Brandie; it is always great to hear them play under guest directors, but it would have been great to actually see our guest director’s face while he played. Most of the concert we only saw the back of a crumpled suit jacket, except when Minasi was playing in concerto mode. The concert started with a jolly and Spanish flavoured Sinfonia by Gian Francesco de Majo, with fantastic performances by our oboes, bassoon and horns. Minasi then shone in a Vivaldi-esque virtuosic concerto by Angelo Ragazzi, featuring beautiful duets with Ben Dollman. Domenico Sarro provided another pre-opera and dramatic Sinfonia with the hearty return of the oboes and horns, and dramatic golden light change and very dramatic long notes on the horns.
Then came the schmaltz
Francesco Durante must have been the Liberace of Naples. The first movement marked Affettusoso (unusual for my ear to start a Baroque concerto with a slow movement) was gorgeously ornamented and romantic, with so many suspended sevenths it would make a lesser woman weep. Ragazzi continued the sad music with a Salve Regina, with a slow second movement that just reminded me of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater perhaps a little too much. It was lovely to see the interplay of the three lead violins. And the orchestra’s intonation was superb.
Minasi dances the Bouré
After interval we were treated to another lively Sinfonia with many dance movements by Gennaro Manna, with many lovely oboe solos. Minasi practically danced through the Bouré. The horns sure did wake us up post interval beverage!
After the most comical retuning of an orchestra I’ve seen in a long time (and it happens a lot with period orchestras, but never this amusing) we prepared for more Neapolitan music. Leonardo Leo, pupil of Alessandro Scarlatti and famous operatic procrastinator, provided a very fine and energetic concerto for four violins and another opportunity to see Minasi’s face as he led the orchestra but played for the audience. Nicola Fiorenza, sacked for his use of the sword as a correctional device at his local conservatory (a practice thankfully not present at our local conservatorium) wrote another beautiful Sinfonia with a Siciliana so full of Neapolitan Sixths it nearly made us weep again. Niccolo Jommelli finished proceedings with yet another Sinfonia for the full orchestra, with golden lights blazoning after the intensely sorrowful Fiorenza Sinfonia. My only real complaint was not being able to hear Minasi’s pizzicato solo in the second movement as he played toward to the orchestra and not to us, the audience. A jolly encore by Leonardo Vinci (not de V) was enjoyed by all and finished a night of Neapolitan treasures.
Photo credit: Steven Godbee