ABO: The Singing Violin

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Published: 8th August, 2017

Shortly before 5pm, concert-goers escaped from an icy Melbourne winter afternoon into the warmth of Elisabeth Murdoch Hall, eager to hear the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra and its guest performer, Dmitry Sinkovsky. Soon a buzz of conversation and fits of alarmingly consumptive coughing filled this magnificent acoustic space.

House lights dimmed, and a small string group with continuo took the stage for Jacques Aubert’s Ciaconna from Concerto for four violins in D Major Op. 26, No. 3. Using a typically French dance form, a chaconne, Aubert’s work demonstrated many more Italianate features in this concerto. Directing from the harpsichord, Paul Dyer’s agile body demonstrated (from the harpsichord) the elegant dance-like feel which was communicated to the audience through the playing of soloists and ensemble. Its apparent simplicity belied the attention to so much detail – wonderful dynamic variation, grace and elegance contrasted with outbreaks of high energy.

Georg Philipp Telemann’s Concerto for Violin ‘per Signor Pisendel’ in B-flat Major, TWV 51:B1 saw the strings section enlarged, and the moment for which many in the audience were waiting – the return of Dmitry Sinkovsky, the Russian violinist who had wowed audiences in 2014 when he last collaborated here with the ABO. His command of the stage was immediate, and after acknowledging the great initial reception, he turned to face the orchestra for the tutti opening, at first flicking his long hair behind him in a characteristic gesture.

The tutti opening was electrifying and set the standard for all the collaborations to follow. Sinkovsky turned to face the audience for his solo entry, and the title of the concert “The Singing Violin” was immediately justified. Originally written for Johann Pirendel, Telemann’s friend and concertmaster of the Dresden orchestra, Europe’s finest, it is a technically challenging work. Sinkovsky (with his 1675 Ruggieri violin) allowed the lines to sing in the slow movements and in the flashy Vivace and Allegro Movements. The third movement, Sempre piano, was exquisite. The lyrical solo was superbly shaped and its delicate line formed a lace-like embroidery across a totally sympathetic orchestral accompaniment. The pianissimo playing was magical.

Darryl Poulsen and Dorée Dixon were the soloists in Vivaldi’s Concerto for two Horns in F Major, RV 538. Baroque horns are metal tubes with a mouthpiece, and can only play notes from the harmonic series, the players changing pitch through breath pressure and lip control. The outer Allegro movements in this concerto are in ritornello form with the pair of solo horns alternating with an orchestral refrain. The solo lines are typically hunting horn or military style calls given a more virtuosic treatment, and the second player follows close behind the first in imitation, creating more musical interest. The soloists were suitably heroic in this virtuoso writing, and in the third movement, Telemann afforded a brief opportunity for them to demonstrate more lyricism. The contrasting minor key of the central Largo movement allowed the horn players time to drain their instruments, while Jamie Hey’s superb mellow cello solo was accompanied by the theorbo, enabling us to more fully appreciate Tommie Anderson’s contribution.

Cocooned in the Elisabeth Murdoch Hall, time seemed to stand still in the Adagio introduction to Jean-Marie Leclair’s Violin concerto in D Major, Op. 7, No. 2. While again Italian in structure, full of Vivaldi-like sequences, and with fast outer movements requiring double stops, string crossings, and extended scale passages, the work still has a French elegance. While Sinkovsky furnished all these requirements, the orchestra was also required to deliver, and they did not disappoint.

 Pietro Locatelli’s Concerto Grosso in E-flat Major, Op.7, No. 6 ‘Il pianto d’Arianna’ was the first item after interval. For me, it provided the highest of highlights in this excellent concert. In six continuous sections, this is a descriptive work, illustrating Ariadne’s abandonment by Theseus on the island of Naxos. Musical settings include Monteverdi’s famous (and unfortunately mostly lost) opera from 1608. The solo violin sings arias and declaims recitatives; it is full of heartbreaking anguish with chains of appoggiaturas, a massive dynamic range, moments of furious rage, and some truly heart-stopping silences. I could swear that no one in the Hall breathed for long passages of music and silence – certainly the coughs had by now totally disappeared. Sinkovsy conducted this work, leading from the front as soloist, and turning to make constant eye contact with every player through the ensemble passages.

Introduttioni teatrali Op. 4 No.5 in D major also by Locatelli, gave Sinkovsky a short time off stage, while the ABO was led from the harpsichord again by the indefatigable Paul Dyer. This energetic short sinfonia has at its centre a more lyrical string trio with continuo, and the ensemble was again outstanding.

Dmitri SInkovsky returned for the final programmed work, Antonio Vivaldi’s Concerto in E minor “Il favorito”, Op.11 No.2, RV 277. Of Vivaldi’s vast output, this concerto is considered one of his best, with substantial structural complexities, including a technically demanding solo part, with strong demands made of both continuo players and individual sections of the orchestra. The solo playing was spectacular, and the whole orchestra appeared to be having a wonderful time interacting with Sinkovsky, breathing with him and matching his energy.

The warm reception that both orchestra and soloist had received throughout the concert was amplified at the conclusion, and we were treated first to a very short encore, with solo violin as Sinkovsy pleaded ‘my string is exploding’. A special treat followed with Dove Sei, a short Handel aria from Rodelinda sung by Sinkovsky in his magnificent countertenor voice, accompanied by the ensemble. It is an astonishing feat to play a demanding solo violin program, and then casually lay your instrument down on a piano stool and open your mouth for such a superb sound to ensue. The tone was sonorous, dynamics well-considered, and the da capo tastefully ornamented. A standing ovation followed, and then “to wish you a good night”– a Telemann lullaby, with Sinkovsky’s solo violin and the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra.

Virtuosic violin music is so often fast, furious and forte. It was a treat to hear that, but a rare pleasure to also experience the quietest pianissimo, the most delicate playing, and the silences, in the solos, and in the ensembles. The high level of communication that was taking place constantly between each of the players on stage was conveyed to the audience in a most satisfying way.

Margaret Arnold reviewed this performance by Dmitry Sinkovsky with the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra on Sunday, August 6 at the Melbourne Recital Centre.



The Singing Violin