Concert Review: Next Generation Baroque/ Australian Brandenburg Orchestra

Christian Li and Shaun Lee-Chen

Braving W C Fields’ infamous trope “Never work with children….,” the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra’s season of Next Generation Baroque which opened last night in Sydney, invited two young adults and a precociously gifted wunderkind to the stage, to perform with the ensemble.

Baroque music is ideally suited to showcasing the prowess of emerging talent and artistic director Paul Dyer’s choice of programme did ample justice to his guests whilst entertaining the audience.

Christian Li, the 11-year-old Melbourne-born violinist has been studying the instrument for just 6 years. Making his solo orchestral debut aged 9, he has already won the joint First Prize in the Junior Section of the 2018 Menuhin Competition in Geneva, along with its Audience Prize and Composer Award. Striding purposefully on to the stage, the diminutive musician raised his bow to the strings and had the audience spellbound alongside orchestra leader Shaun Lee-Chen, playing Halvorsen’s Passacaglia for violin and viola after Handel.

In this thrilling rendition, the two instruments morphed into a multi-instrumental ensemble with its demanding double and triple stops, frequently expanding into many more parts. At times in dialogue, at times in duel, Christian Li, on his ¾ sized 1733 Dom Nicolo Amati from Bologna, played with a rare depth of emotion and interpretive skill, totally immersed in his music and transporting his audience. Shaun Lee-Chen, a worthy partner, graciously supported the younger talent. The numerous technical devices written in by Halvorsen presented bountiful opportunities for showcasing the performers’ breathtaking mastery of technique. Grappling with a large box of Meccano as a token of appreciation, Christian left the stage, presumably going home to bed whilst the concert continued.

Violinist Annie Gard followed with the Ciaccona from JS Bach’s Partita No. 2 in D minor. Now based in Hamburg, the young graduate of Sydney’s Conservatorium of Music and Juilliard415 performer, presented a hypnotising soliloquy of this feat of technique, stamina and memory, building the tension from a sedate introduction through its 64 variations, each with its own character and challenges.

Annie Gard

Annie Gard was joined by the ensemble later in the programme, giving a brilliantly athletic and virtuosic performance of Vivaldi’s Violin Concerto in G major, opus 9, no. 1, creating a soaring, embellished melody in its middle movement, Largo cantabile, anchored by a delicate pizzicato in the lower strings of the orchestra. She preceded the tempestuous finale with a hauntingly beautiful cadenza which spanned the range of her instrument.

The trio of talent was completed with New Zealand-born soprano and Guildhall graduate Madison Nonoa. Her six da capo arias from the operas and oratorios of Handel, including classics like Tornami a vagheggiar and V’adoro pupille, were beautifully controlled and delivered with tremendous stage presence and dramatic effect. She sang with a bright, radiant high register that blossomed to warmth in the lower ranges, deftly negotiating leaps in register with daring coloratura and pyrotechnic ornamentation. Lead violin and voice entered a delightful play against each other in reprise of Tu del ciel ministro eletto from Il trionfo del Tempo e della Verita, HWV 46B. Likewise, soprano and Leanne Sullivan’s baroque trumpet in Let the Bright Seraphim.

Madison Nonoa with the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra

The orchestra had its chance to shine in the overture from Handel’s Julius Ceasar played with crisp dotted rhythms and the Concerto Grosso in B minor, opus 6 no 12, HWV 330, also by Handel, with contrasting ripieno and concertante ensembles creating a stately Larghetto e piano in the central section, moving through a brief Largo and ending in a rollicking Allegro.

The pleasure of hearing these young performers is matched by the anticipation of hearing them as they as they mature.

Shamistha de Soysa for SoundsLikeSydney©

The Australian Brandenburg Orchestra’s Next Generation Baroque continues at the City Recital Hall, Sydney on selected dates till 20 September.

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