Celestial Vivaldi

Suzanne Yanko

AUSTRALIAN BRANDENBURG ORCHESTRA: This deft and imaginative tribute to the popular Baroque composer also featured the music of three of his contemporaries.
Celestial Vivaldi
Celestial Vivaldi – the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra’s imaginative tribute to the popular Baroque composer – also featured music of three of his contemporaries.

The concert literally began with chaos – Le Chaos, part of Les Elemens by Jean-Fery Rebel, one of France’s great secular composers during the period that Vivaldi, ‘the red priest’, was in Venice. Like the composer of The Four Seasons, however, Rebel composed his music to evoke the mood of his subject. Chaos used percussion and a series of discordant passages, while the ‘elements’ of earth, water and fire were represented by a far sweeter, harmonic baroque sound, enlivened by the ensemble’s distinctive percussion.

Director Paul Dyer was in his element conducting from the harpsichord, inspiring a vigorous concerted attack from the ABO. The next item was by French organist Michel Corrette, whose 75-year career began only a little later than Vivaldi’s and who was evidently an admirer of the Venetian. You could argue that his Laudate Dominum de coelis was an 18th century-style cover version, appropriately reimagining a popular work: Vivaldi’s Spring concerto (from The Four Seasons) arranged as a motet for large choir.

Corrette wrote his own introduction, a soprano solo with a gentle, swaying movement, delivered with suitably spring-like freshness by Siobhan Stagg who impressed by maintaining her pitch in a particularly long unaccompanied passage. The fine choir – comprising singers from Melbourne Grammar School Chapel Choir and the Choir of Trinity College (University of Melbourne) – introduced the well-known music of Vivaldi, bringing a reassurance that Corrette’s work was no pastiche, but one that brought new life to familiar music, while introducing worthy new sounds.

Guest concertmaster Rachael Beesley connected the music of the two composers with a virtuoso violin passage while bass James Roser and counter-tenor Timothy Chung did far more than simply smooth the transition between the two. Of further interest was an instrumental refrain that had echoes of Vivaldi, yet had a subtle key change to mark the work as undeniably Corrette’s.

Although there had been some initial nervousness in the audience about how the Laudate Dominum might work, all the talk at interval was of how wonderful it was. Equally novel, and very enjoyable, was the first item in the second part of the concert: Concerto a piu instrumenti in G major, Op.6 No.5 by the Italian composer Evaristo Felice Dall’Abaco, better known in his own time than today.

The piece was classic Brandenburg fare: bright, pacey and rhythmic – and from the stance of Dyer and his ensemble, a sheer joy to perform. This made the work perfect concert fare, and a vehicle for a number of musicians to show what they were made of. The violins shone in a graceful adagio and a short, stylish allegro which recalled Vivaldi’s own music.

It was thus an apt curtain-raiser for the major work on the program: Vivaldi’s Dixit Dominus, one of the works he wrote for the female musicians of the Ospedale della Pieta in Venice.

Not nearly as well-known as the composer’s Gloria in D, despite having many similarities in form, Dixit Dominus nevertheless deserves more airings. The choruses are vigorous, the choir delighting with clean entries and clear diction, the instrumentation varied and suited to the various parts of the work, and the solos pleasing.

Although it had an insecure start, the trumpet redeemed itself as accompaniment to Chung’s solo, in which he displayed great power even on higher notes, before the choir did a sterling job on the (fairly bloodthirsty) chorus: Judicabit in nationibus. Chung’s next solo, De torrente, displayed true mastery of baroque style, and soloists, chorus and orchestra joined in for a worthy example of the period in the final Gloria.

The Amen had an unusually swaying rhythm, in 3/4 time, but with a fully realised fugue. There was an ethereal element as the upper voices rose note by note – to some imagined heaven?

Rating: Five stars

Celestial Vivaldi
Australian Brandenburg Orchestra
Conducted by Paul Dyer
REBEL: Les elemens (1737)
CORRETTE: Laudate Dominum, motet à grand choeur (1766)
DALL’ABACO: Concerto à più istrumenti Op. 6 No. 5 in G Major
VIVALDI: Dixit Dominus RV 595

Melbourne Recital Centre
September 4 – 5

City Recital Hall Angel Place, Sydney
September 2 – 3 and September 7 – 10

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Suzanne Yanko is the editor of www.classicmelbourne.com.au. She has worked as a reviewer, writer, broadcaster and editor for Fairfax Digital, the Herald-Sun, the South China Morning Post, Radio 4 Hong Kong, HMV VOICE - and, for six years, ArtsHub.   Email: syanko@artshub.com.au