Brandenburg Celebrates

Australian Brandenburg Orchestra
Brandenburg Choir
Artistic Director: Paul Dyer
ABC 481 1929

You can’t go past some of the great works of the Baroque if you want to celebrate joy, passion, triumph and elegance, all traits of the astounding Australian Brandenburg Orchestra.

Brandenburg CAfter 25 years of continued success and audience favour, the ABO has carved its well-earned place in the history books for its attention to Baroque performance practice, its engaging programmes (both in live concert and in recorded format), as well as its ability to bring relevance to such music through its dynamic and striking performances.

Here on this CD, Paul Dyer not only has produced a recording of immense pleasure, but one which showcases the orchestra’s great mastery of the 17th and 18th century repertoire.

From a vibrant and driven opening of Handel’s Zadok the Priest, from Coronation Anthem No 1, to the Telemann Concerto in E minor for flute, violin and strings, this is virtuosity on an orchestral scale that is rarely heard. Take the 3rd movement (Presto) of the Telemann, for instance, which is truly breathtaking as the violin soloist powers through with the greatest of resolve.

Impeccable intonation and rhythmic vitality are hallmarks of this great ensemble and on this superb recording, listeners will rejoice with the orchestra, as they are swept up into a Baroque frenzy of decorative dazzle and elegant sparkle.

Vivaldi’s Cello Concerto in A minor (RV 421) has exceptional solo passages played on a Baroque cello, providing an obviously different timbre, and executed with virtuosity.

Two examples of vastly different Concerto Grossi are included, with Geminiani’s No 12 in D minor “La Follia”, and Handel’s work in D, Op 3 No 6 (HWV 317), the former being a set of most intriguing variations, and the latter being unusual for its first movement, which is an ensemble piece (with short outbreaks of solos for oboes and bassoons), and the second movement, which is for solo organ, with orchestra providing an accompanying role.

Being introduced to many for the first time perhaps is the music of Brescianello, whose vivacious Violin Concerto in E minor, Op 1, No 4, and Chaconne in A is recorded here. A relatively unknown composer, his music is full of grace and Vivaldi influence.

To finish this recording is a premiere recording of a commissioned piece by Australian composer, Elena Kats-Chernin – Prelude and Cube. In the words of Paul Dyer, Prelude and Cube “pays homage to Bach, offering a glimpse into the world of the Baroque and a triumphant celebration of the Brandenburg.”
“My biggest challenge in writing this work,” said Kats-Chernin “was to feature every instrument”, a challenge even greater, with the inclusion of saxophone. Whilst Bach may be Kats-Chernin’s favourite composer, she did not want to quote directly from Bach’s works, but rather use devices and stylistic characteristics as references, albeit some of the vocal texts are drawn from Bach’s Magnificat.

Despite coming some 300 years later, Kats-Chernin’s new work fits within the output of the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra, for its highly acclaimed status within the Baroque music cognoscenti, since it has the same life, elegance, and sense of triumph. The Brandenburgers bring to this new work a similar passion and respect, making it a recording of great beauty and worth. It is a work of considerable merit sitting easily alongside the greats of the Baroque.

Vivaldi: The Four Seasons

I Musici

ABC 074 3213 (CD & DVD set)

The Four Seasons are so well known, but when the sound of I Musici is combined with the visual element of Venice, then this becomes a real treat. This is a DVD with a difference; the beauty and delights of Venice can be experienced in sympatico with the musicians of I Musici, the world-renowned ensemble from Italy, who traverse canals and byways of the romantic city, and is interspersed with some of the great art works including masterpieces by Canaletto, Guardi and Tintoretto. (A full list of the art works accompanies the printed booklet.)

Musicologist, David Hogarth eloquently writes about this famous work and the eminent ensemble, making for very informative notes to accompany the recordings.

“I Musici was instrumental in bringing the Venetian composers, Vivaldi and Albinoni back to the attention of the modern world. Today’s ‘authentic’ music movement may never have been born had the group not first spearheaded the ‘Baroque Revival’ in the 1950s.”

The Anton von Munster film is beautifully produced, and whilst this was recorded in 1988, it is newly released by ABC (from the original Decca release).

In addition, there is a CD of six other Vivaldi works (recorded in 1965), which sound incredibly fresh and vibrant. The selection includes the Concerto for violin and cello in B flat, RV 547, Concerto for 2 violins and 2 cellos in D, RV 564, Concerto in A major, RV 552, Concerto for strings in D minor (Madrigalesco), RV 129, and Sonata a Quattro for strings in E flat (Al Santo Sepolero), RV 130.

The recordings (on either DVD or CD) are truly glorious, and are performed with intelligent sensitivity. These still remain some of the world’s finest recordings of these iconic works.

Recomposed by Max Richter – Vivaldi: The Four Seasons

Konzerthaus Kammerorchester Berlin, Andre de Ridder (Conductor), Daniel Hope (Solo Violin); DG 481 0044

It may seem an absolute sacrilege to think that Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons needs to be re-composed or re-invented in some way, thus it was with some trepidation with which I listened. However, the playing of the score (its original, along with the modern incarnation) was superbly rendered by musicians of immense skill and intellect. This new version however, is also not pretending to be anything other than a new twist on Vivaldi, through the eyes and ears of its German-born British “composer”, Max Richter.

“It’s part of our musical landscape. I wanted to make the piece, because I loved Vivaldi. So it’s my way of having a conversation with Vivaldi”, is how Richter defends his work.

This conversation serves to illuminate the old with the new, making it a real rediscovery for any listener. Whilst conserving the essence of Vivaldi, there are other moments which are as though they have been put through a time machine throwing Vivaldi’s well-loved work into the 21st century. The notion of patterns in music, evident in Vivaldi harken not only to a minimalist, but ambient approach.

Just when one is re-adjusting to the familiar, Richter can subtely propel the listener into another aural domain. It is not as jarring as one might expect though, and certainly has merit in terms of an accessible, contemporary performance of an old master.

(This review first appeared in Fine Music magazine June 2013 issue.)

3: Trios by Handel, Vivaldi and Telemann

Genevieve Lacey, Neal Peres Da Costa, Daniel Yeadon

ABC 476 5105

From the outset, the exuberance and clarity of tone of this recording makes a huge impact. It is an enormously gratifying aural experience, in which three of the country’s finest exponents of early music perform works written hundreds of years ago, whilst bringing to life the joys and drama of music by Handel, Vivaldi and Telemann.

In the trios chosen here, the melifuous phrasing and oftentimes exquisite virtuosity of recorder player, Genevieve Lacey is beautifully aligned with the tone of both organ and harpsichord played by Neal Peres Da Costa, whilst cellist Daniel Yeadon added a depth of sonority, as in Vivaldi’s three-movement Concerto (for 2 violins) in D minor (an arrangement here), and the well-known Concerto in D RV 91 (Largo movement), as well as the two recorder & continuo sonatas by Handel (Sonata in A minor, HWV 361, Op 1 No 4, and Sonata in C, HWV 365).

Ravishingly beautiful playing in the other trios, both by Telemann (F major, TWV 42:F3 & B minor, TWV 42:h4), in which conversational aspects to the playing of thematic ideas are artfully passed between the players, and delectable contrasts in tonal colour are achieved in the diverse movements.

The thoroughly delightful arrangement of aria, Par che mi nasca in seno, from Handel’s opera Tamerlano HWV 18, is calmly stated in a dialogue of melodic lines interspersed between recorder and cello, with organ providing a constant harmonic basis throughout.

All three performers have opportunity to shine individually. Exhilarating virtuosity is displayed by Da Costa in the decorative variations of Handel’s Harpsichord Suite No 5 in E, HWV 430. Lacey’s recorder solo in Handel’s Fantasia in C shows how fluidly she manages the disjoint melodic layers, giving to them an evenness of tone and agility. Yeadon’s solo Sonata in D, TWV 40:1:1 by Telemann balances the solo lines with underlying harmonic gestures.

This is one of the seriously fine releases from ABC Classics of late, and is testament to the early music skills of Australians who rate highly on the international stage.


Cello Romance

ABC 476 5162

Anthologies of famous cello music abound, but this latest 2CD release from ABC Classics deserves to be heard. It is a compilation of recordings made mostly by Australians, including Janis Laurs, Li-Wei Qin, Sally Maer, Louise King, Michael Goldschlager, Julian Thompson, Suzanne Wijsman, Noeleen Wright, Daniel Yeardon, Anthea Cottee, Fenella Gill and Jamie Hey.

Along with the usual and equally spendid performances of movements from Bach’s Cello Suites and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, as well as movements from the very famous concertos by Vivaldi, Dvorak and Elgar, and well known pieces by Tchaikovsky and Saint-Saens, there is much that will interest all kinds of listeners, from cello students and teachers right through to the man or woman in the street.

The apparent simplicity of the Adagio movement from Haydn’s Cello Concert in C is quite delightful with its lyrically shaped phrases. The pizzicato accompaniment to the legato melody in Villa-Lobos’s Cantilena from Bachianas Brasileiras No 5 adds to the Latin American flavour.

The tranquil mood of Spiegel im Spiegel (or “mirror in the mirror”) by Avro Part allows the listener into a rare space of solitude where an infinite number of images can collide. The playing here by Sally Maer and Sally Whitwell (on piano) is most moving.

As well as the standard cello repertoire, there are transcriptions of arias and songs (Handel’s Lascia ch’io pianga from Rinaldo, and Par che mi nasca in seno from Tamerlano, Sondheim’s Goodbye for Now, and the Ionian song, I Will Give My Love an Apple).

Large scale accompaniments are provided by various orchestras (Melbourne and Adelaide Symphony Orchestras, Sinfonia Australis, and Australian Brandenburg Orchestra) on some tracks, but also a diverse range of other accompaniment forms, including piano, harp, harpsichord and chamber settings, thus giving a range of tonal combinations.

Whilst there are sonata movements by de Boismortier and Saint-Saens, it is perhaps in the lesser known works (von Paradis and Zipoli, for example) or transcriptions where this disc actually offers something more.

As a compilation album, covering a smorgasbord of repertoire over a 400 year period, it is well worth having in one’s collection.