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Ludovico’s Band: Sound the Trumpet

by Julie McErlain

If good things come in threes, then the combination of counter tenor Maximilian Riebl, Ludovico’s Band and the new world-class performance venue, Hanson Dyer Hall, was always going to be a winning combination. Sound The Trumpet, was perhaps a cheeky metaphor chosen to call in the troops as there were no trumpets or sackbuts to be seen, but the popularity of the Southbank Series, with our Local Heroes, had already guaranteed a dedicated following of Henry Purcell’s music, along with an audience hungry to hear the first concert scheduled by Melbourne Recital Centre in the yet to be fully explored new Ian Potter Centre.

The well balanced fare of late Renaissance music began with Marshall McGuire directing the seven-piece stringed consort with a robust and lusty rendition of Purcell’s Overtue to Dido & Aeneas. Always entertaining and informative, artistic director Marshall McGuire summed up the essence of the music to come – love, passion, love, pain, love, sorrow, love, death. Purcell’s How Happy the Lover from King Arthur, brought the distinguished Maximilian Riebl into the spotlight. Audiences are truly enamoured by the unique qualities of a rare and true counter tenor voice, with Max’s warm, mellow and fruity tones taking us from colours of gold to silver and back to gold. His purity of tone and intonation, and his ability to expressively broaden or contract the tone of a single note displayed his impressive use of the voice as a “real” Renaissance instrument. In Here The Deities Approve, the God Musick and of Love, the consort’s lower strings supported the soloist’s flowing charming mood and melodies with joyful ease, elegance and the light pastoral quality of the English ayre.

Ludovico’s Band continued the “happy section” of Purcell’s music, with the lively and energetic Chaconne from “The Fairy Queen.” With few people able to dance a chaconne these days, this music has proven suitable for even a romantic circular waltz. With the regular footfall of the pulse and the energetic and joyful character of today’s colourful ensemble, I felt like dancing.

Then we were introduced to the “sad” section, with John Dowland’s most well-known ayre Flow My Tears delicately accompanied by solo harp. Previously arranged for lute under the title Lachrymae this rendition was truly sorrowful and expressive, sensitive but not tragic or despairing. Riebl’s voice portrayed endearment and sadness with notably effective dynamic levels and extremes of softness and subtle and tender ornamentation. Fascinated by the vocal quality, the audience hung on to every note of this popular work. The instruments responded with charming transcriptions of Dowland’s Lachrymae and Purcell’s Chacony in G minor with dramatic feeling and rhythmic energy.

The poetry of O Death Rock Me Asleep, attributed to Anne Boleyn and said to be written in 1536 before her execution, is a truly emotional and fateful lament. Such simple, repeated motifs, descending with a sigh, resignedly become just single pitch phrases. Beautiful and touching. All performers conveyed the essential spirit and intimate feeling of the verses with tenderness and empathy. The final motif “For now, I die” was repeated insistently and more gently, becoming just a single note, with the solo chamber organ adding a spiritual resolution with its final chords. A shadowy and sad postlude.  A segue into Robert Parson’s fine tragic consort song Pandolpho furtheredthe evening’s program of vocal beauty, and empathetic instrumental accompanying continued to take our imaginations to centuries past.

The final work from the one-act dramatic cantata, The Choice of Hercules, Handel’s Lead, Goddess, Lead the way, allowed Riebl to continue to charm the audience with delightful ornamentation, lyricism and technical accomplishment.

Ludovico’s Band completed the joyful presentation of this fine program with an encore of the Chaconne from Purcell’s Fairy Queen. Music for hearts and feet to dance to. World class music in a world class venue.

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Julie McErlain reviewed the performance of Ludovico’s Band with Maximilian Riebl, “Sound the Trumpet” as part of the Melbourne Recital Centre 2019 Southbank Series, in Hanson Dyer Hall on November 2, 2019.

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