Brandenburg Celebrates
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Coronation Anthem No. 1 ‘Zadok The priest’, HWV258 [4:51]
Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767)
Concerto in E minor for flute and violin, TWV52:e3 [8:58]
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Cello Concerto in A minor, RV421 [8:33]
Francesco GEMINIANI (1687-1762)
Concerto grosso No. 12 in D minor ‘La Follia’ [10:51]
George Frideric HANDEL
Concerto grosso in D major, op. 3/6, HWV317 [6:57]
Giuseppe Antonio BRESCIANELLO (c. 1690-1758)
Violin Concerto in E minor, op. 1/4 [7:59]
Chaconne in A major [5:14]
Elena KATS-CHERNIN (b. 1957)
Prelude and Cube [13:23]
Melissa Farrow (flute); Jamie Hey (cello); Shaun Lee-Chen (violin); Jane Sheldon (soprano)
Brandenburg Choir
Australian Brandenburg Orchestra/Paul Dyer (harpsichord, chamber organ)
rec. 16-25 March 2015, Eugene Goossens Hall, Sydney
ABC CLASSICS 4811929 [67:53]

While the Australian Chamber Orchestra has garnered international acclaim for its outstanding performances, Paul Dyer’s band has somewhat flown under the radar outside Australia. It is a period instrument orchestra, with nineteen strings plus wind, brass and percussion as required. It is led by the effervescent and charismatic keyboardist Paul Dyer, co-founder with Bruce Applebaum: this CD celebrates 25 years of the orchestra. All are works performed by the orchestra in recent years.

Some might find Zadok the Priest to be a little “underdone”, lacking the large climaxes that larger, modern ensembles bring; the choir here numbers only twenty-six. I love that grand style, but can also see the virtues of this chamber version: joyousness replaces soaring grandeur. I use the word “joy” very deliberately here, as it pervades every Brandenburg concert I have attended. Sadly, having recently moved from Australia to New Zealand, attending one of their concerts will now be a rarity.

The three solo concertos are great successes, by turns thrilling, rapturous and virtuosic, and brilliantly played. The soloists are all members of the orchestra. As with many period instrument ensembles, tempos in the slow movements are slightly faster than one might expect from the marking, but not so extreme that contrast with other movements is lost. The Telemann is the standout and if you are considering purchasing this album, try the samples at Presto. I’m not a great flute aficionado, but this is good enough to make me reconsider. The slow movement makes me think of the Largo from Vivaldi’s “Winter” in the plucked string accompaniment. The following Presto is stunningly good. The two concerti grossi give the orchestra a chance to shine in its own right.

Of the baroque pieces, the two Brescianello works are the curiosities. The concerto is not of the same quality as the Telemann and Vivaldi, but has its moments, while the Chaconne is a quite lovely creation, which seems to have only one other recording, a Glossa CD dedicated to the composer.

If the Kats-Chernin piece looks out of place, it is in some ways, but appropriate in a key one: it was commissioned by Paul Dyer as the piece to crown the celebration concert in 2014, which my wife and I were fortunate to attend. It is scored for soprano, soprano saxophone, choir and orchestra, and is inspired by, or more accurately, a response to Bach, and specifically his Magnificat, which opened the concert. It is not a neo-Baroque piece, but does use some of Bach’s chord sequences. Kats-Chernin, a close friend of Paul Dyer, says in the notes that “originally, I thought of writing a prelude and fugue in tribute to Bach, but I don’t write fugues … I had in mind something like a Rubik’s cube, where the parts are moving but still fit together”. The Prelude combines grandeur with emotion, while the Cube movement is more light-hearted and has elements that bring Philip Glass to mind. The choir and orchestra, whose normal range is no later than Mozart, take this very different music in their stride.

The recorded sound is very naturalistic, and while the soloists are appropriately forward, there are very few distracting breathing noises. The notes are taken from the programme notes, and provide historical context and some audience-friendly musical pointers.

This is a joyous – there’s that word again - celebration of a marvellous group of players. If you haven't made their acquaintance, this is a very good place to start.

David Barker
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