Australian Brandenburg Orchestra

Perth Concert Hall

reviewed by Neville Cohn

A surpassingly fine account of a baroque oboe concerto was the chief joy of the first half of a concert which climaxed with Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. That series of four concertos for violin has been the asthmatic, red-haired composer-priest’s biggest drawcard since being rescued from oblivion some sixty years ago. These concertos have never fallen out of favour since so, predictably, Vivaldi’s all-time big hit drew an audience of some 1200 aficionados who filled the stalls and lower gallery of the Concert Hall to capacity.

The only non-Vivaldi work on offer was Evaristo Dall’Abaco’s Concerto in C for oboe and strings, music I’d imagine might have been new to most. Here, Kirsten Barry scaled the heights, her skill on the baroque oboe, that much mellower, less piercing-toned ancestor of the modern oboe, is phenomenal, producing a near-faultlessly fashioned stream of sound that seduced the ear whether in the charmingly buoyant gigue which opens the concerto or the ultra-civilised minuet movement that brings the work to a close. The stately elegance of the finale was perfectly captured.

Throughout, Barry had the inestimable advantage of an accompaniment by the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra which, on present form, makes it the nation’s most accomplished baroque ensemble.

In The Four Seasons, soloist Lucinda Moon and the ABO pooled their formidable musical skills to glorious effect. Although Ms Moon must long since have lost count of the number of times she has played this quartet of concertos, there wasn’t a hint here of concentration wearing thin. This was no routine, run-of-the-mill reading. Instead, page after page of what must surely be the most enduringly popular of all baroque concertos for the violin, came across as if freshly minted but always within the line and contour of the 18th century. Superbly synchronised, soloist and orchestra were throughout pitted against each other in insightful ways.

Many factors, of course, contribute to performance, not least technical finesse and stylistic integrity, both of which were present in abundance. Over and above these crucial factors, though, was a youthful exuberance, a shared enthusiasm that elevated whatever the ABO touched to impressive levels of achievement.

A rewarding evening also included a Vivaldi concerto for two baroque horns with Darryl Poulsen and James McCrow as soloists. Without either keys or valves, these treacherous precursors of the modern horn are almost impossible to control completely. They pose nightmarish difficulties for players. But notwithstanding a sprinkling of crumpled notes, the soloists rose admirably to the challenge, playing with flair and style to emerge at concerto’s end with honour pretty much intact – no small achievement.

Copyright 2005 Neville Cohn


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