After a hesitant start involving a technical issue with the microphone, the marvellous Paul Dyer, continuo player and director of the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra, affectionately known as the Brandies, introduced his merry band and announced a program change. A program fairly full of Vivaldi was to have one more – a cello concerto played by the principal cellist Jamie Hey. I immediately thought – that’s a lot of the Red Priest for a Friday night but my friend and I waited to be amazed.
The first of five concerti by the Italian master was performed by Russian Eurovision-esque star of the violin, Dmitry Sinkovsky, on a stunning, 350-year-old violin. A few intonation problems was nothing to abate the fabulous soloistic virtuosity of Sinkovsky, but the way the Brandies were led by the swish of his perfect ponytail and folky spirit of his dancing about the stage to indicate phrasing and dynamics was superb. The Brandies were larger in force than their last concert with mandolinist Avi Avital, and Sinkovsky needed the extra force and direction to be heard over the many string players and extended continuo – harpsichord, chamber organ and theorbo/guitar. When he played the quieter, slower movements of the concerto, you could have heard a pin drop in the audience – his violin soared above the orchestra with such light bowing and florid ornamentation. The faster movements were powerful and at times I thought he was playing in the style of the Russian Romantics over a baroque orchestra – scrapping and slapping his strings with gusto, but it worked! Sinkovsky was at times I little ahead of the orchestra as they raced to keep up but by the fifth concerto they were right there with him.
The Corelli was a nice change in between two Vivaldi concerti and gave an opportunity for second violinist Ben Dollman and principal cellist Jamie Hey to form a trio of soloists. Not only were there many adoring looks from Paul Dyer from the harpsichord to his soloists, the Brandies audibly breathed together in the third movement and was the best ensemble playing of the night thus far.
After another Vivaldi concerto, a very happy audience were treated to not only a costume and hairdo change after interval. Sinkovsky arrived on stage with his violin, but placed it on a chair and commenced to sing! And he sings high like a Russian combination of Andreas Scholl and Philippe Jaroussky! Vivaldi’s cantata Cessate, omai cessate for solo alto singer includes one of my favourite arias and many in the audience nearly jumped out of their seats to hug Sinkovsky after his beautiful, powerful songs of cruel love. At this stage in the concert after some lovely Vivaldi and Corelli, I thought we could just have had more singing please. Sinkovsky outshone himself as solo violinist by such emotional and superbly in tune singing, and such dreamy high notes, that I forgot all about the run-of-the-mill first half and settled in for some superb music. He also played his violin during the cantata, although not at the same time that he sung. That would have been the Eurovision moment!
Jamie Hey provided a little light relief in his beautiful and very well-prepared performance of a Vivaldi cello concerto. It seemed the Brandies were sighing collectively in huge relief to be led by one they knew well and who they had rehearsed with a lot. By the last Vivaldi concerto, with our Russian star at the helm, the Brandies seemed warmed up and ready to keep up the pace.
We were treated to not one, but four encores – two each for violin and voice. The two vocal works – Albinoni’s Pianta Bella from Il nascimento de l’Aurora and Cara sposa from Handel’s Rinaldo – were tremendous, the latter being dedicated to the victims of the Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 and brought a tear to most eyes in the audience. The absolute highlight of the evening was the first of two movements from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. This should have been played in the main program – possibly the whole four concerti!
Bravo to this multi-talented Russian superstar and we are all looking forward to the new CD in a few months. Or you can still get along to his remaining concerts in Sydney and Melbourne in the coming week.