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Sublime Baroque: Corelli, Concerto Grosso op. 6 no. 4; Albinoni, Oboe Concerto op. 9 no. 2; Telemann, Viola Concerto in G; Brescianello, Chaconne in A; Handel, Concerto Grosso op. 6 no. 7; JS Bach, Orchestral Suite No. 4; Monique O’Dea, viola, Australian Brandenburg Orchestra, guest director and soloist, Alfredo Bernardini, Angel Place Recital Hall, Sydney, Australia, 6.5.2006 (DB)

The Australian Brandenburg Orchestra (ABO) is a small period instrument ensemble based in Sydney under the enthusiastic artistic direction of Paul Dyer, the group’s harpsichordist and founder. Formed in 1989, it has gradually emerged from the shadows of the internationally known Australian Chamber Orchestra, which spreads its wings more widely in terms of its concerts and programmes. The ABO concentrates on the Baroque and Classical era, particularly the former. This was my fourth opportunity to hear the Orchestra perform, and on each occasion, the most obvious and immediate impression that one gains is the enthusiasm and enjoyment that shines from the performers.

The Corelli concerto was described as a “historical reconstruction” of the familiar work for strings, by including parts for valveless trumpets, oboes and bassoons. The basis for this re-scoring was explained by the guest director, oboist Alfredo Bernardini, as being a logical explanation of why the accounts for Corelli’s concerts of the time included payments to wind and brass players. Was the “reconstruction” a success? In my opinion, no. Corelli’s delicate rhythms and textures were rather submerged by the two trumpeters who at times drowned out the rest of the orchestra (19 string players in the full ensemble).

Bernardini was the soloist in the Albinoni, and in the outer fast movements was dextrous and animated in his playing. However, the sublime Adagio, which so brings to my mind the theme Geoffrey Burgon wrote for the TV series Brideshead Revisited, was less successful, played at a fairly sprightly tempo, which didn’t allow the plaintive long notes of the oboe to make their full impact.

Unfortunately, the problem in the slow movement of the Albinoni was not an isolated one. It is one that the ABO does repeat on a fairly regular basis in many works, and is common to many period instrument ensembles that I have heard on recordings: a reaction to past excesses in playing Baroque music too romantically and slowly has led to tempos which seem only to consist of fast and faster.

The Telemann viola concerto, with the principal violist of the ABO, Monique O’Dea, as soloist exhibited the same symptoms. The fast movements were an absolute joy – spirited, vital and full of verve – but the slow movements didn’t provide sufficient contrast. It is almost as though the energy and joy that courses through the players can’t be restrained.

The name of Giuseppe Brescianello was completely new to me. It seems that most of his professional career was spent in various German courts as violinist, composer and Kapellmeister. His Chaconne was cheerful, tuneful and didn’t outstay its welcome. The Handel concerto was more problematic. I have to admit to tuning out at times, again in the “slow” movements, but the last movement Hornpipe was dazzling, with the double bassist Kirsty McCahon featuring prominently with her entirely pizzicato role making her seem like a jazz bass player.

There were no qualms with the Bach Suite, with the full orchestra, including the only contribution for the evening from the percussion. It is probably no coincidence that the piece is predominantly upbeat in tempo. It was full of celebration, complexity and spirited “conversations” between the choirs of strings and winds, led by Bernardini (he had no role in the strings-only works of Telemann, Brescianello and Handel). In a programme where only Vivaldi of the Baroque “big guns” was missing, the towering mastery of Bach stood out in this piece and the encore, Gigue from Bach’s Third Suite.

So a mixed but predictable response. Disagreements over tempi aside, an evening with the Brandenburgs is always great fun.

David J Barker




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Contributors: Marc Bridle (North American Editor), Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling, Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, Jean Martin, John Leeman, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)