Abbandonata was a veritable cornucopia of Baroque musical drama featuring an impressively on-form Prudence Sanders in various incantations of mythical and historical heroines including Cleopatra, Armida and Euridice.

Also included was a fabulous rendition of Francesco Geminiani’s Concerto Grosso La Follia, which confirmed Australian Baroque’s growing prowess as an ensemble of highly skilled and historically informed, yet dramatically sensitive players.

Prudence Sanders, “Abbandonata”. Photo © Brad Coleman

Sanders made a dramatic entrance from the back of the hall preceded by a vibrant Tim White on tenor drum, entering with assurance and grace in a gorgeous all gold glow-mesh power dress, so the audience was primed for some fireworks.

She then proceeded to deliver a formidable collection of vocal music from memory, featuring some of the most demanding coloratura going in any of the known soprano catalogue, early to modern. This is no mean feat and deserves to be singled out for the considerable task this meticulous preparation entails.

Beginning with a completely bonkers aria at a blistering tempo from Carl Heinrich Graun’s Cleopatra e Cesare, this dizzying display of melismatic writing set the tone for what became a showcase of Sanders’ technical prowess, as well as her considerable stage animal characteristics.

There were welcome contrasting moments within the excellent repertoire selection that gave the audience and the ensemble a bit of a palate cleanse, and some introspection midst the baroque vocal gymnastics. Legrenzi’s gentle and sonorous “Se tu sarai felice” with paired back instrumentation and sensitive leadership from AD and first violin Helen Kruger was delightful. Sanders matched the ensemble’s sensitive delivery and drew in the audience with a skilful use of straight tone and pianissimi singing.

Prudence Sanders and Australian Baroque. Photo © Brad Coleman

Sanders is a singer unafraid to make deliberate stylistic vocal choices like these, and much of the time they absolutely pay off, with only the occasional phrase dropping off in energy or dynamic where the ensemble overwhelmed her, or the text was lost. There is such a clear and inviting manner in the way she manipulates a phrase however, it shows a keen musicality and a true understanding of text and intention, which in live performance is so essential.

A fantastic selection to include in its unique unstuffiness, the wonderfully earthy “Quando Voglio” from Sartorio’s Giulio Cesare in Egitto was a real highlight, beginning with a low and throaty phrase, almost spoken by Sanders, developing into a real toe tapper replete with castanets and clapping.

Two more wonderful vocal works were included, the devilish Armida Abbandonata by Handel that featured a more full-blooded operatic sound from Sanders with arresting and interesting ornamentation and wonderful use of percussion (including a thunder sheet!); Gluck’s “Che fiero momento” rounding out the evening gorgeously with languishing long phrases.

The Australian Baroque ensemble were uniformly assured and vibrant in their delivery, adeptly led by Kruger, and clearly relishing playing together. This was most evident in the fantastic delivery of La Follia, a theme and variations concerto grosso that presented equal opportunity for players to show off multiple aspects of their excellent techniques in wonderful soli sections, as well as swoony moments of musical contemplation.

Andy Skinner’s lovely flute popping through the texture in one variation, James Huntington’s ornamentation from the harpsichord shining through in another, Kruger’s fiery declamation from the solo violin, and Noeleen Wright’s furioso cello playing in the last variation were so enjoyable, it drew forth last lasting and appreciative applause for musicians at the top of their game. As did the entire concert, resulting in a lovely Purcell encore about the pleasures of dropping into bed for a good night’s rest; Sanders and ensemble certainly earned it after such an energetic and rousing performance of baroque musical pleasures.

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