ABO and Circa: Spanish Baroque

Article details

Published: 7th June, 2017

Melbourne has no shortage of fine musicians and full orchestras, but visitors are generally welcome, particularly those that bring a different perspective to both audiences and fellow-musicians alike. So it was in May, hot on the heels of the Hong Kong Philharmonic’s Melbourne concert, we were treated to concerts by visitors far closer to us – two Sydney-based orchestras with the title “Australian” in their name.

This review concerns the first orchestra, a familiar visitor to Melbourne, always welcome for their program choices and exceptional performances. This was of course the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra, which, since the Melbourne Recital Centre opened in 2009, has been a regular visitor to Melbourne playing to sell-out houses most of the time. The Brandenburgs’ recent effort – Spanish Baroque: Brandenburg and Circa saw the musicians teamed with a circus troupe or members of it. As well, soloists or members of the orchestra were given prominence in certain items on the program. Lighting added to the sense of this being a theatrical performance, rather than a traditional concert.

Circa is a circus for our times, relying on the athleticism of its performers, with no animals in sight. In style it is reminiscent of Cirque Du Soleil, although the core skills of balance seem to belong to the much older Chinese tradition. Performing without nets, Circa does present some heart-stopping moments but for the most part seems to be an extension of the orchestral performance, even an interpretation of the composer’s intention. Clearly, Paul Dyer and Circa’s Yaron Lifschitz had spent a lot of time preparing for this collaboration, something that was hidden behind a virtually flawless performance on all counts.

From the outset, ABO director Paul Dyer had everyone’s feet tapping, with the attraction of percussion irresistible. Baroque guitarist Stefano Maiorana lent arrangements and a Spanish sense of style to the music, while New Zealand soprano Natasha Wilson, gave a sensual performance of Spanish melodies, her strong voice, with its clarity and purity, well suited to the Baroque style. Each of four “scenes” contained music by Spanish composers new to the audience, with Albeniz and Vivaldi represented by lesser-known works. However, their place in the Baroque period – and Spanish influence – was unmistakable. In full the program was:


Dyer Entrada dinámica y ruidosa
Murcia Canarios (arr. Dyer & Palmer)
Merula Su la cetra amorosa
Murcia Fandango (arr. Maiorana & Palmer)



Anonymous Muerto estáis (arr. Dyer, Egüez & Palmer)
Albéniz Leyenda ‘Asturias’ (arr. Palmer)


Narváez Con qué la lavaré (arr. Coelho)
Vivaldi La Folia


Traditional La mare de Déu (arr. Palmer)
Anonymous Villancico ‘Rodrigo Martinez’ (arr. Dyer & Palmer)
Traditional La dama d’Aragó (arr. Palmer)
Murcia Jácara (arr. Maiorana & Palmer)
Improvisation Passacaglia Andaluz

Dyer’s scholarly approach, married with the orchestra’s (and his own) enthusiasm, is a mark of the ABO. On this occasion, though, they all had to keep a wary eye out for the circus performers who at times were thrown through the air – always to someone who caught them, but at times rather frighteningly!

The Australian Brandenburg Orchestra is so loved trusted and appreciated in Melbourne for its custodianship of the music of the Baroque that most audiences don’t think of it as a Sydney orchestra, but rather deserving of its name with a national claim to fame. (This is a particular accolade, as Melbourne is not short of musicians who favour Baroque music, with or without “authentic” instruments).

This was no dry, intellectual presentation of the music, however. In his comprehensive program notes, Paul Dyer says of a work by de Murcia: “This work is sexy, rambunctious, rowdy and has a directness and commotion to me that perfectly captures Spain.”

He might just as well have been describing the breathtaking performance the Brandenburgs and Circa gave us!


The second Sydney-based orchestra to visit Melbourne was ARCO – the Australian Romantic and Classical Orchestra. It is reviewed separately on these pages.