Music by Handel and Vivaldi anchor the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra’s Baroque Kaleidoscope program, with Telemann, Albinoni and Pergolesi making up the coterie of Baroque composers whose music is performed this evening.

It is also an opportunity for some of the ABO’s core musicians to step out and showcase their soloistic skills.

Australian Brandenburg Orchestra: Baroque Kaleidoscope. Photo © Keith Saunders

Paul Dyer is at the harpsichord directing the ensemble with soloists, Concertmaster Shaun Lee-Chen and Ben Dollman playing Baroque violins, Melissa Farrow playing Baroque flute and Adam Masters and Kailen Cresp playing Baroque oboe.

The ABO is already well into its Sydney season but with the Melbourne season yet to begin, this is a refreshing change to review a performance that is ‘run-in’, with the performers settled into their roles, rather than experiencing the high tension of an opening night.

Dyer has drawn on the power of two in programming Baroque Kaleidoscope selecting music which highlights pairs of the same or different instruments and it is a winning formula.

The three-movement Sinfonia from Vivaldi’s opera Il Giustino RV 717 opens with a tempestuous Allegro full of light and shade easing to a gentle stroll in the Andante and a sprightly Allegro, highlighting the Baroque guitars strummed by Tommie Andersson and Nicholas Pollock who later alternate guitars with theorbos.

Two contrasting concerti grossi by Handel, the G major. Op. 6 No. 1, HWV 319 and the B-flat major, Op. 6 No. 7, HWV 325, are considered excellent examples of this form.

They are from a collection of 12 Grand Concertos written by Handel to be performed during performances of his sacred and theatrical pieces and Handel’s ambition is evident. The concertos contain a spectrum of his compositional styles including airs, fugues and a variety of dances.

The first of these concertos features Lee-Chen and Dollman going head-to-head on their violins. Dyer rightly places the two violin sections with their leaders on opposite sides of the stage for this interplay which includes a majestic first movement, a solo string trio, a brilliant fugue in the fourth movement Adagio, closing with the Allegro played in the style of a lively minuet.

Handel’s Op. 6 No. 7 is a far more democratic piece as the entire ensemble stars in this engaging piece which also contains a fugue in its second movement and ends with a Hornpipe.

Australian Brandenburg Orchestra: Baroque Kaleidoscope. Photo © Keith Saunders

Lee-Chen turns co-soloist along with Melissa Farrow who joins the ensemble for Telemann’s Concerto for flute & violin in E minor, TWV 52:e3, one of his noted concertos for more than one solo instrument and ensemble. The high-octane virtuosic playing from the soloists in the opening Allegro is tempered by the rustic feel of the second movement, with the ensemble’s pizzicato underlying the undulating lines of the violin and flute. Lee-Chen takes total ownership of the solo third movement Presto, with a scorching pace.

Lee-Chen and Dollman reprise their partnership in a brilliant account of Vivaldi’s popular Concerto for 2 violins in A minor from L’estro armonico, Op. 3 No. 8, RV 522. Translated as ‘The Harmonic Inspiration’, the opening and closing Allegros are breathtakingly fast, flanking the soulful Larghetto e spirituoso in the middle.

Masters and Crisp are perfectly matched in the twinned and twining passages of The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba, Handel’s Sinfonia for two oboes and strings from his oratorio Solomon, drawing a distinctive, woody, piping Baroque sound. They join forces again in a tremendously polished performance of Albinoni’s Concerto a 5 in F major, Op. 9 No. 3 for two oboes, the middle movement giving the feel of a gently rocking Sicilienne, contrasting with intensely rhythmic Allegros on either side.

Two single movements complete the program. We hear the Adagio from the Concerto for flute in G major, P 33 attributed to Pergolesi, performed with lace-like delicacy by Farrow, segueing imperceptibly into a quick-fire rendition of the Allegro from Vivaldi’s Concerto for Violin in D major, RV 222, tossed with facile virtuosity by Lee-Chen.

A colourful publication accompanies the concert with musicians listed by Australian capital city rather than with the customary provenance of their instruments. It’s unclear whether these are cities of their birth, training or current residence and I am curious to know more about the instruments that they play.

The ABO’s Baroque Kaleidoscope brings soloistic brilliance and fine orchestral playing. Nuanced yet vibrant, clarity and detail are not compromised in the dazzling display of technique. Melbourne is in for a treat.

Australian Brandenburg Orchestra performs Baroque Kaleidoscope in the Elisabeth Murdoch Hall, Melbourne Recital Centre, 9–12 May

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