The Brandenburg concert called Blazing Baroque made sparks fly from the outset with music by Sammartini. The Overture to the opera Memet, J-C 88 was fast and sparkling, and proved the perfect choice to introduce the stars of the night: members of the orchestra itself. Director Paul Dyer is well-known for his ability to comb the world to find soloists famous in the baroque arena who will also meld with the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra. Tonight, however, it was the orchestra that was the focus, and it proved worthy of the attention.
As so often with Dyer’s performances it was a little unclear where items began and ended, partly because it seemed acceptable on this night to applaud after individual movements rather than waiting until the end. The Sammartini was greeted enthusiastically but it had more to come, with an andante that was flowing, and accentuated by the pizzicato lower strings. Then finally, another presto with a joyous sound and energy that kept Dyer busy at the keyboard and involved all players.
Vivaldi was next, his Concerto for violin in D major, Grosso mogul, RV 208, a showpiece for Shaun Lee-Chen, the 2016 Concertmaster. It is difficult to think of any soloist who would have played this better than he did. Just as well, as the solo instrument often has little support from the other players. The first movement concluded with what appeared to be a cadenza (not normally heard in works of this period) , and it was truly brilliant. The second movement, unusually, was marked Recitavito: Grave. Participation by the bass, harpsichord and cello and Lee-Chen’s solo work gave this movement quite a modern sound, (or at least not that to be expected from the Vivaldi of the Four Seasons, for example).
For the final movement, allegro, it was back to the baroque with strong rhythm and shaped phrases and echoes of sound. Throughout, the soloist was prominent and his speed, while impressive, was at times difficult for others to keep up with. Lee-Chen’s accuracy was unquestionable, even at a high pitch. Once again there appeared to be a cadenza, long and brilliant, followed by a burst of sound from the whole orchestra, then a matching level of applause from an appreciative audience.
Dyer commented that there was “an amazing group of Australians on stage” and to prove the point showed off their recent trophy, a Helpmann award.
The Telemann Concerto in E minor for flute & recorder, TWV 52:e1 offered more interest in the composition of the orchestra, having added two oboes, three trumpets and theorbo. The combination more than justified the name “grand”, the trumpets lending gravitas (and surprisingly in tune, given they were original instruments). The first movement was solemn and the ceremonial yet taken at an easy pace, while the second saw the trumpets taking a lead, (still in tune!) However, it was the adagio that was surprising … a powerful, slower, sweet reflection with counterpoint from the harpsichord, and the winds a lovely complement.
The faster movements to conclude saw the always energetic Dyer introduce a new model of conducting, by rising from his seat and dancing. With the lower strings again playing pizzicato the effect was of a swinging rhythm, the winds vying for prominence as the director again got up from his seat and danced his way to the end of the concerto.
It was time for interval and already we had been given a very generous performance. Highlights of the second half included the horns in the Vivaldi Concerto in F major RV 569, unusually named ” for several instruments”. Unfortunately they were not all as consistently in tune as their fellow brass, the trumpets, but rallied thanks to the performers’ expertise. Once again we had a gently swaying second movement (literally, in Dyer’s case) and a brisk allegro to follow, in which the horns rallied to lead the rest. For their part, the winds distinguished themselves with an unbelievably long held note while the orchestra as a whole impressed with its tempo and synchronicity at speed.
Next it was Telemann and his Concerto in E minor for flute & recorder, TWV 52:e1. From the outset the two solo instruments were well matched and resonant, with nicely shaped phrases accentuated by the violins. The second movement, Allegro, was, contrapuntal with the soloists leading proceedings. The largo which followed saw the harpsichord setting the pace, which was solemn, and there was a lovely duet for the soloists. Phrasing was all-important and was respected by all.
That the final movement would be energetic was suggested when Dyer stood up. It was marked presto and that is what the orchestra delivered, and excitingly strong and memorable sound. Many in the audience wondered how this could be topped! But this was achieved with the final offering, Concerto in D major, FWV L:D4a by Fasch. The program notes advised that it was written for solo violin, specifically for a virtuoso friend of the composer. Fortunately, in Lee-Chen the ABO has the perfect soloist with the performer appearing to codirect with Dyer, while delivering a brilliant performance for the three movements.
Everything fell into place. The strings were balanced by the winds, the trumpets were still in good form and the addition of timpani swelled the sound and the excitement. Of course Lee-Chen gave the solo that surely even the conductor would approve, while also sharing in a duet with the cello that stayed in the memory long after the concert had finished. The final movement, a second Allegro, built up to a mass of sound with the violins appearing to soar above the rest. This is the kind of music and level of performance that brings a Melbourne audience out on a cold night.
While we wait with interest for Artistic Director and Conductor Paul Dyer to introduce the next blazing sensation from a concert hall far away, it’s good to know the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra is as incandescent as ever, as it proved in this well-named concert.
The picture is of Paul Dyer in rehearsal.