Glorious Baroque

Tomas Boot

AUSTRALIAN BRANDENBURG ORCHESTRA: Period pieces played on period instruments, together with new works by Federico Maria Sardelli very much in the spirit of Vivaldi.
Glorious Baroque
There’s a sense of comfort that comes with attending a concert put on by the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra, as one expects – and rightly so – to hear period pieces played on period instruments. So when one stumbles across the news that one of the pieces is to be a world premiere, and that the orchestra will be playing music by a composer very much alive and not in any way composting in a European graveyard, then the surprise is both thrilling and disturbing. It is as if one had spent a week climbing a mountain in Italy on top of which an ancient monastery sits, and, once one had made their way to its library, once one had wrenched open the large and dusty tome which one had sought, eager and ready to learn the secrets of the ages, one instead finds an electronic-greeting-card version of ‘Happy Birthday’ booming out of its spine.

As anachronisms go, however, Federico Maria Sardelli’s Cello Concerto in G minor was engaging and splendid to listen to. Sardelli has spent much of his life immersing himself in Vivaldi’s oeuvre, so that he might write music in a direct continuation from where the master left off, and Vivaldi’s influence is clear. Cellist Jamie Hey was the soloist, he and the orchestra led by guest director and violinist Riccardo Minasi, an enthusiastic – if one is being coy about it – man, leaping around the stage as if he were giving an inspirational speech to an auditorium filled with men beleaguered by mid-life crises. But for the concerto Hey was the focus of one’s attention.

Hey, with his cello resting on his left shoulder, comes from the Nappy-Changing School of concert performance, spending a large portion of his time on stage with his eyes closed and his head tilted away from the strings, as if the complex operation his hands are undertaking can only be endured if his nose is as far away from the offending site as possible. The other interpretation, of course, is that he is feeling the music, but this critic will leave the reader to decide. Nevertheless, Minasi and Hey provided one of the night’s highlights.

Preceding the Sardelli piece was one by Vivaldi, his Concerto for flute “La notte”, Op.10 No.2, RV 439, an enchanting if underwhelming interpretation, as it was often hard to make out the melodic line of the baroque flute played by soloist Melissa Farrow. The choice to bathe the City Recital Hall in a nocturnal blue for the duration of the piece (the lights fading out at the end) was an interesting one, but added very little to the already thin atmosphere.

Before that were two pieces by Zelenka, played without pause, his Sinfonia to the Serenata “Il diamante” ZWV 177, and his Aria “Qui piegate, qui posate” from “Il diamante” ZWV 177. The sinfonia was pleasing to the ear, but it was the aria, with soprano Siobhan Stagg, that was the standout, her voice strong and warming, which, combined with the red dress she was wearing, had most eyes in the Hall focused on her.

After the interval was the Ouverture Grande in D major, FMV K:D8 by Fasch, played with great aplomb, the contrasting movements rattled off at great speed. Finally was Vivaldi’s Violin Concerto “Il favorite”, Op 11 No 2, RV 277, with Minasi the soloist. His performance was both captivating and engrossing in much the same way as the soprano and cellist earlier in the night, but even more so, like watching an eagle dart and twirl its way across the sky. The Andante, the second movement, was the high point of a piece that was the summit of the night.

Rating: Four stars

The Australian Brandenburg Orchestra
Glorious Baroque
Guest Director & Baroque Violin: Riccardo Minasi (Italy)
Soprano: Siobhan Stagg
Baroque Flute: Melissa Farrow
Baroque Cello: Jamie Hey

ZELENKA: Sinfonia to Il Diamante ZWV 177 (Australian premiere)
ZELENKA: Aria: "Qui piegate, qui posate" from Il Diamante (Australian premiere)
VIVALDI: Concerto for flute "La Notte" RV 439
SARDELLI: Cello Concerto
FASCH: Ouverture Grande in D major, FWV K:D8
VIVALDI: Violin Concerto in E minor RV 278

City Recital Hall Angel Place
October 28 – 29, November 2 and 4 – 5

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

Tomas Boot is a 24-year-old writer from Sydney whose hobbies include eavesdropping on trains, complaining about his distinct lack of money, and devising preliminary plans for world domination. He also likes to attend live performances on occasion, and has previously written about such cultural excursions for Time Out Sydney.