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Beautiful Minds

by Suzanne Yanko

Australian Brandenburg Orchestra – the Sydney-based ensemble that Melbourne has taken to its heart – is Australia’s leader in interpretation and authentic performance of Baroque music. And it infuses serious musicianship with a great sense of humour, yet without ever making a laughing-stock of the music or performers. Artistic Director Paul Dyer also has a knack for finding soloists who are drawcards in their own right, but who are a good fit with the Brandenburgs. In the current program, Beautiful Minds, the first of these was Craig Hill, playing basset clarinet – an extraordinary instrument that looked similar to a long wooden pipe with a useful bulb at the end. Hill gives a far more scholarly description in the program notes – but of course, the interest was in the sound. This was well illustrated in Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A major K622, written for the virtuoso Anton Stadler, who devised this version of the basset clarinet. (There’s more to this story, including Stadler’s louche way of life and consequent need for money and, more importantly, the discovery in recent times of a sketch that showed his original instrument – proving that for 200 years basset clarinet makers have got the design wrong). But to return to the review of Hill’s performance: it sounded well matched to the orchestra, with a consistently good sound throughout the range of the basset clarinet. The instrument’s mellow tone was complemented by Hill’s phrasing, a vital element in Mozart, and in one of the best-known works in the classical repertoire. The lyrical slow movement could be heard afresh, but Hill’s dexterity also allowed the accidentals and the brisk coda to drive the concerto to a brilliant end. With the Brandenburgs’ own authentic instruments, the performance gave the audience a unique opportunity to hear the music as Mozart would have intended it. Mozart’s was the predominant ‘beautiful mind’ of the concert’s title, with the first work his Divertimento K136. Only the first movement was advertised but Dyer (observing that ‘all of Melbourne is here’) announced that the ensemble would play the entire work. It was a welcome surprise for an audience that had given the musicians a very warm welcome. The orchestra gave a performance that was so much more than an authentic rendition of a classical Mozart piece, with players sharing their energy and delight in the music. Dyer’s contribution from the fortepiano was more than that of director and continuo, with the instrument lending a lovely resonance to the work. Similarly, Madeleine Easton proved a concertmaster worth following, heard to advantage in the final movement which began delicately then progressed to a full symphonic sound, ending with an exciting series of long runs and trills. A violinist who already has an impressive list of achievements on the international stage, Easton had her chance to shine after interval as soloist in Mozart’s Violin Concerto No.3 in G major K216. Although she had changed from orchestral black to a deep blue dress Easton seemed at first reluctant to claim her new status as soloist, turning in to the violin section for the strong attack of the opening movement. But by the virtuosic cadenza at its end Easton was positioned as a worthy soloist. In the second movement she made the melody sing as the orchestra played a lilting accompaniment. Another cadenza took the violin to its heights as Easton played the main themes of the second movement, then joined with the orchestra in the exuberant, showy conclusion to the work. The Orchestra moved even further from its Baroque origins with the final work, Mendelssohn’s Die Hebriden Op.26 (‘Fingal’s Cave’). Their shared understanding and love of Bach, according to Paul Dyer, linked the two composers whose ‘beautiful minds’ inspired the program. However, ‘Fingal’s Cave’ was a highly individualistic work, indisputably belonging to the Romantic period. Mendelssohn’s music was sweeping, with bassoon, trumpets and percussion all more in evidence than in the Mozart that had preceded it in this program. Dyer was caught up in the music and it was good to see the orchestra freed from the conventions of earlier periods as they recreated Mendelssohn’s vision of the Hebridean coast and the fury or calm of the sea. Another beautiful concert from the Brandenburgs – and there’s still Christmas to look forward to! Rating: 5 stars out of 5 Beautiful Minds Craig Hill (Australia) bassett clarinet Madeleine Easton (Australia) period violin with the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra Artistic Director Paul Dyer Mozart – Divertimento in D KV. 136 Allegro Mozart – Clarinet Concerto in A major K. 622 Mozart – Violin Concerto No. 3 in G major K. 216 Mendelssohn – Hebrides Overture (‘Fingal’s Cave’) Op. 26 Melbourne Recital Centre 28 October Additional dates: City Recital Hall Angel Place, Sydney Wed 31 October, Fri 2 & Sat 3 November all at 7pm Sat 3 November 2pm Matinee

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