The fifth Bendigo Chamber Music Festival of celebration and fireworks was a blast with the Friday Night Fireworks concert at the Capital Theatre in the beautiful city of Bendigo in Dja Dja Wurrung and Taungurung Country. It was one of 14 concerts featuring 18 esteemed musicians in six venues over five days, delivering world-class chamber music to Country Victoria and beyond.

Capital Theatre, Bendigo. Photo supplied

Cellist and Co-director Chris Howlett opened the concert, commenting on how excited he was to play with his mates, including bassoonist Lindon Watts. Howlett is also the Co-Director of Australian Digital Concert Hall, created in 2020 during the Covid crisis to share live music between musicians and audiences across the globe, raising $4 million for artists.

The baroque tones of Bach and Handel featured in the first half of the concert. Violinist Sophie Rowell, the recently appointed Artistic Director of the Melbourne Chamber Orchestra, commented that the Bach was her favourite and like a bowl of champagne featuring fun things you can do with a harpsichord!

Special guest Donald Nicholson, an esteemed harpsichordist and pianist from the University of Melbourne, was impressive during C.P.E. Bach’s Sinfonia in C Major and a showcase for the skills of the internationally talented 12-strong Tutti Strings, featuring Queensland Orchestra’s Concert Master Natsuko Yoshimoto and Thomas Chawner, viola player of the Orava Quartet.

The powerful soprano Ashlyn Tymms treated the audience to Handel’s Ombra mai fu from Xerxes and Stille Amare from Tolomeo with her robust timbre, like warm mahogany.

A crashing harpsichord and discordant striking strings reminiscent of Psycho featured in Handel’s Stille Amare, known as the “Poison Aria”. The strings became more erratic as Tolomeo slipped into oblivion, prematurely truncating the aria after believing he had been poisoned.

The fruity bassoon of Lyndon Watts, a founding member of the Australian World Orchestra and the oboe of Armand Djikoloum, 2021 prize-winner at the Young Classical Artists Trust in London, titillated the Bendigo audience with a jolly rendition of Vivaldi’s Concerto for Oboe and Bassoon in G Major.

The lively Allegro molto was no obstacle for Watts as he could not contain his delight, with joy spilling from the bassoon as he bobbed and weaved with Djikoloum. The two had a playful energy which complemented Vivaldi’s vivacious concerto and was a highlight of the show.

Pianist Professor Anna Goldsworthy, Director of the Elder Conservatorium of Music at the University of Adelaide, expressed her pleasure at being part of a fabulous trio for the evening. Performing with cellist Chris Howlett and Holly Piccoli, Principal First Violin of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, who has accompanied Dancing with the Stars Australia and fiddled country music in the Mid-West.

The passionate Piano Trio in C Minor by Mendelssohn closed the concert. It was written in his later years for his beloved sister Fanny, and the trio imbued the rhapsodic piece with aplomb. Piccoli had to hide her smirk behind her bow when the silence after the first movement was interrupted with a loud rude noise that one can only hope was a nose blow. She managed to contain her amusement through the frantic Scherzo and the Finale to round off an entertaining Friday night feast.

Selected concerts from the Bendigo Chamber Music Festival are available to stream via Australian Digital Concert Hall.

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