Its only the beginning of March and already Melbourne audiences were referring to the event of the year as the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra’s first Melbourne subscription concert came to an end. Later, Victorian Minister for the Arts Peter Batchelor went quite some distance further, saying that it was the best thing hed heard in his life.
The Orchestra turned has just turned 21 and the best birthday present possible was delivered by counter-tenor Philippe Jaroussky who, despite his youth, has already collected many awards and been named Frances Opera Singer of the Year. As the featured artist in Vivaldis Olympia, Jarousskys performance with the ABO was virtually flawless, combining a mastery of technically difficult music with a purity of voice and exceptional sensibility. High notes were delivered with assurance, and long notes held for what seemed an impossible length of time apparently effortlessly. It is rare for a reviewer to be confronted with perfection but, apart from a comparative softness in the singers lower register, that was how it appeared.
The ABO, itself an ARIA award-winner for its 2009 Handel CD, was a fitting partner to Jaroussky. Artistic director Paul Dyer was, as always an animated leader from the harpsichord. There was resonance and precision from the performers with their period instruments which included baroque trumpets (a brave choice, as baroque brass is notoriously difficult to keep in tune). The program for Vivaldi Olympia gave equal weight to Handel, with instrumental and vocal music by both composers before and after interval.
A minor program change allowed Jaroussky to come quietly onto the stage as the orchestra was playing and seamlessly lead into a recitative and aria. Jaroussky has been favourably compared with the great castrati of the 18th century, so it was fitting that the last of three encores was heard in the film Farinelli: Alto Giove by Porpora, from his opera Polifemo. But, although one had to admire the vocal gymnastics demanded by much of the music, for me the most memorable arias were the gentle Dove sei and Ombra mai fu, both by Handel. In these, as throughout the concert, Jaroussky and the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra did indeed scale the Olympian heights they had promised. Vivaldi Olympia: Philippe Jaroussky Melbourne Recital Centre March 1