There are many reasons to love the Brandenburgs, including their presentations of music performance as travel experiences. Mercifully the comments that accompany such excursions are not of the tour bus style but are confined to introductions or timely comments during pauses in the performance. With Paul Dyer and his musicians and guests we have explored everything from inaccessible mountain communities to grand palaces, the joys of a fairground and the sophistication of cities that, centuries after the music was written, still fascinate us.
Tonight it was 18th century Naples and the music of the streets, the church, the palace and possibly the sea. Our guide was born in Rome but his interest in the baroque and his own performance history makes him a world traveller well able to lead us into new paths. This “guide” was of course Riccardo Minasi, exponent of the baroque violin – his own instrument, with a sweet and resonant sound, being a very fine example. He plays a violin made by Antonius & Hieronymus Amati in Cremona in 1627.
The opening work – Sinfonia in D major by Francesco de Majo – served to introduce a rather pared down orchestra with Paul Dyer at the keyboard and Minasi as guest director and soloist. It was crisp classic baroque with three movements including a measured andantino, and an interesting finish including a well-handled change of rhythm and grace notes. The next, Angelo Ragazzi’s Violin Concerto in g minor, put the soloist in the spotlight, as you would expect from its title. Less expected was that the work began with a slow movement, a loving adagio. This and the faster movements were played with energy and sensitivity by the soloist, well supported with a full and rich accompaniment by the strings (in the absence of winds and brass who had left after the first work). In what was to be a characteristic of the night the soloist shared the limelight with other “soloists”, in particular concertmaster Shaun Lee-Chen, and at other times distinguished his own performance by his easy approach to ornamentation.
Domenico Sarro’s Sinfonia from Demofoonte was characterised by the return of Dyer, horns and winds … and a flurry of tuning! Within the work itself, curious horn notes punctuated the brisk allegro while the poco andante was delicate but still quite emphatic – and altogether charming. To describe Minasi’s dynamic and energetic style would suggest that he grabbed centre stage for himself but nothing could be further from the truth. Yet before the work had finished the bulk of the orchestra walked off the stage leaving it to Minasi, Dyer and Lee-Chen with just a few instruments to accompany them. Minasi responded with a brilliant and quite long solo.
All too soon it was interval, and then the second half heralded with a burst of brass, (the period horns having their usual difficulties with pitch). Oddly in the opening work by Manna the winds also seemed to be a little out of sorts until a graceful minuet and trio restored their equilibrium.
Minasi like Dyer uses his whole body to energise the players, and the result is often brilliance particularly with the strings. A Concerto for 4 violins in D major by Leonardo Leo allowed this to be seen, evoking unison and synchronicity, and precise timing of dotted notes while Minasi busied himself with complex ornamentation. This work was a highlight of the concert.
Two more followed, with the winds rallying for the final work by Niccolò Jommelli, Sinfonia from La Betulia liberata. In it, a lovely little andantino provided Minasi with his last solo for the night and an opportunity to show his skills with a long pizzicato section. It was the final allegro assai however that drew all players together, with a graceful yet rigorous true baroque sound – a great choice to end the programmed works. There followed a brilliant encore, excitement, much applause – and the inevitable sadness at farewelling Paul Dyer, the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra and, on this occasion, their superb guest performer, Riccardo Minasi.