Digital Concert Review: Sacro Amor/ Australian Haydn Ensemble

Sacro Amor

Australian Haydn ensemble/Lazarenko/Farrow

The Australian Haydn Ensemble’s digital performance Sacro Amor is 75 minutes of pure pleasure at any time, but especially so in lockdown. Premiering in May 2021 it is still available on demand, on the AHE player.

The ensemble led by artistic director and violinist Skye McKintosh comprises violinist Matthew Greco, Karina Schmitz viola, Anton Baba cello, Bonita Williams double bass, Simon Martyn-Ellis theorbo and Anthony Abouhamad organ, with soloists soprano Celeste Lazarenko and flautist Melissa Farrow.

Sacro Amor is a luscious collection of music by the Italian Antonio Vivaldi and his German contemporary Adolph Hasse. What becomes apparent through the concert is how similar their writing was, with both composers treating voice and flute in similar instrumental style.

Performed expertly by soloists and ensemble, and with a theatrical twist, the curtain raiser is Vivaldi’s Concerto for Strings in F major RV 136. Elegantly played, it is brief but sets the tone with its imitative passages and busy undertones accompanying the film, sombre and drained of colour in black and white. As colour seeps into the visuals, Lazarenko launches into Vivaldi’s motet for soprano, strings and continuo RV 632 Sum in medio tempestatum, with its startling leaps in register and rapid-fire scales. The song’s torment, lament and devotion are perfectly illustrated with florid ornamentation and decided articulation by Lazarenko who dazzles with her beauty of tone. The sobbing syncopation in the third stanza is a vivid example of word painting in song. Lazarenko’s accomplishments are carried through her other two solos, the aria Vedrò con mio diletto from Vivaldi’s Il Giustino and Hasse’s motet for soprano, strings and continuo, Alta Nubes Illustrata, written in Italian style, for the residents of the ospedale in Venice which was Vivaldi’s stomping ground. It’s ‘groovy’ first movement and declamatory recitative are followed by a third movement placed very high in the vocal register. Lazarenko sings with graceful phrasing and her technical grounding enables a ravishing coloratura.

Melissa Farrow playing transverse flute gives an evocative and breathtakingly virtuosic performance of Vivaldi’s Concerto for flute Op. 10 No. 2 in G minor RV 439 La Notte and Hasse’s Concerto for Flute in B minor.

Vivaldi’s concerto begins simply enough. However, in the space of 6 brief movements Farrow showcases her virtuosity from a seemingly endless trill in the opening Largo, the first of three in the piece, played with mesmerising sonority and silken legato, contrasting with the arpeggiated architecture of the first Presto and the furious pace of the second Presto. There is a subtle shift in style from the Italianate to the French in Farrow’s interpretation of Hasse’s flute concerto, an altogether more sedate and stately piece.

Programme notes available online include engaging historical insights authored by Anthony Abouhamad and full text and translations.

The concert was filmed during February 2021 at St Stephen’s Church in Newtown, Sydney, a fitting setting for this winning combination of performers and repertoire.

Shamistha de Soysa for SoundsLikeSydney©

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