The Australian Brandenburg Orchestra,
Fearless Italian Baroque Violin
Soloist and guest director by Riccardo Minasi
October 29, 2015
City Recital Hall, Sydney
Playing on an Amati violin from Cremona that is over 300 years old, Baroque specialist Riccardo Minasi performed a selection of rarely heard Neapolitan orchestral gems directing the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra from the violin.
Leading the orchestra was concertmaster elect Shaun Lee-Chen with artistic director Paul Dyer alternating between chamber organ and harpsichord.
The programme, curated by Minasi, contained many works never performed in Australia, by composers rarely or never before heard here. Angelo Ragazzi, Niccolò Jommelli, Nicola Fiorenza, Domenico Sarro and the others whose music was featured were members of a thriving Neapolitan school. The better-known composers who emerged from Naples like Scarlatti, Pergolesi and Cimarosa, musical terms like the “Neapolitan Sixth” and the “Neapolitan Scale” along with the abundance of Neapolitan folk songs point to a region that has been a vibrant centre for the arts from ancient times.
The concert programme was a medley of sinfonias which showcased the ensemble musicians and concertos featuring Minasi, the first half of the concert closing with a sonata which featured the whole ensemble.
From the opening sweeps of Minasi’s bow, his dynamism and technical brilliance were captivating. The clarity and lustre of the sounds he drew from the orchestra and his own instrument were exceptional, along with conducting a tightly integrated ensemble. Alongside his musical expertise, Minasi also has an entertaining sense of humour, turning the inescapable exercise of re-tuning the instruments into a mildly comic routine.
It was also evident from very early in the concert that Neapolitan music has its own characteristic sound and style, derived from its harmonies, melodies and rhythms, the influence of foreign conquerors (who included the Spanish), the courts and the church. It is music redolent of Naples – sunny and uplifting, light-hearted and breezy.
Sparkling playing from the strings was enriched by the two Baroque horns, the Baroque oboes and Baroque bassoon in the ensemble pieces (Francesco de Majo’s Sinfonia in D major, Sarro’s Sinfonia from Demofoonte, Angelo Ragazzi’s Sonata Op. 1 No. 4 in F minor Imitatio in Salve Regina, Gennaro Manna’s Sinfonia in E flat major and the Sinfonia from La Betulia liberata by Niccolè Jommelli).
Sarro’s Sinfonia especially, was fortified by the joyfully raucous proclamations of the rough gems that are the Baroque brass and woodwind, with exciting syncopated and dotted rhythms in the strings. The brassy exuberance an exuberance was reprised in Jommelli’s Sinfonia.
Smaller exquisitely balanced ensembles performed the concerti with Minasi being joined by Lee-Chen, violist Monique O’Dea, cellist Jamie Hey and Dyer at the harpsichord for Francesco Durante’s Concerto No. 2 in G minor, a quartet of violins formed by Minasi, Lee-Chen, Ben Dollman and Matt Bruce featuring as soloists in Leonardo Leo’s Concerto for 4 violins in D major and Minasi, Dollman and Matt Greco forming the solo trio in Nicola Fioranza’s Sinfonia for 3 violins in G major.
Not surprisingly, the audience wanted more and Minasi and the ensemble obliged with a sizzling rendition of Leonardo Vinci’s Overture to Catone in Utica.
Paul Dyer has expressed his belief that Baroque music is an ideal medium for younger audiences to appreciate classical music, and indeed it was heartening to see the broad mix of ages in the audience on the opening night of the Sydney season.
A night of Baroque music with a difference, brilliantly performed.
Shamistha de Soysa for SoundsLikeSydney©
Ricardo Minasi performs with the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra at the City Recital Hall, Sydney, on selected dates until November 6, 2015.