Brandenburg Celebrates

Australian Brandenburg Orchestra and Choir directed by Paul Dyer. Soloists: Shaun Lee-Chen, Baroque violin; Jamie Hey, Baroque cello; Melissa Farrow, Baroque flute
Classical, Early Music, New Music
ABC Classics 481 1929
Reviewed by , February 1st, 2016

A triumphant performance of Zadok the Priest (Handel’s famous coronation anthem of 1727) on the first track of this brilliant CD sets the scene for an exciting selection recorded in 2015, to celebrate 25 years of music making by the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra and Choir. This renowned ensemble has released 18 CDs under the ABC Classics label already. Paul Dyer, its Artistic Director and co-founder, notes: ” I wanted to capture and celebrate this very important milestone with all the flair, colour and recognition such an anniversary deserves” (CD booklet). The marvellous playing and singing heard in the eight works on this CD are testimony to the ensemble’s fine achievement.

Paul Dyer

Paul Dyer

Zadok is performed at an exuberant tempo with a beautifully controlled slow crescendo in the orchestra building up to the choir’s thrilling entry. The voices are finely blended and the fast runs are executed with such ease and joyfulness that one is left uplifted and wanting more. The choir started in 1999 with 13 singers, and has gradually expanded to 26. It regularly joins the orchestra in the annual subscription series. Paul writes with justified pride: ”Our choir is a ravishing blend of radiant Sydney singers”. Indeed it is!

Melissa Farrow

Melissa Farrow

Following Zadok, the orchestra plays five baroque concerti : Telemann (e minor for flute, violin and strings), Vivaldi ( Cello in a minor, RV421), Geminiani (Concerto Grosso no.12 in d minor – La Follia), Handel (Concerto Grosso in D major,Op.3.No 6), Brescianello ( Violin in e minor, Op.1,No.4) and his Chaconne in A major. The soloists in these works are outstanding. I marveled at violinist Shaun Lee Chen’s technical virtuosity – the presto of the Telemann had me on the edge of my seat holding my breath. The duet with Melissa Farrow on her baroque flute is one of many highlights on this disc, as they lovingly share the melody with a perfect understanding. In the Vivaldi cello concerto we hear soloist Jamie Hey with his magic fingers, and in the Brescianello, Shaun Lee-Chen is again the soloist.

Shaun Lee-Chen, violin

Shaun Lee-Chen, violin

The ensemble playing is superb throughout and Dyer’s tempi feel just right – never too fast! The energy in the Baroque rhythms and the dynamic contrasts are well realised and there is always such beautifully nuanced phrasing under Dyer’s baton. One is constantly enlivened by the playing. The recording itself is excellent – thanks to Virginia Read, the recording engineer and producer. The CD notes are clear and interesting and give suggestions – “what to listen for” – for each piece.

Cellist Jamie Hey

Cellist Jamie Hey

The last track is the world premiere recording of a major work, the newly commissioned piece for this important milestone, named Prelude and Cube, for choir and full orchestra. The composer is Elena Kats-Chernin, the celebrated Russian-Australian, and a friend of Dyer’s from their days together as students at the Sydney Conservatorium. The text is from Bach’s Magnificat, her original inspiration for the piece. The prelude starts softly with murmurings in the low strings. The soprano soloist (Jane Sheldon) sings a slow rising passage and the sound builds as all the instruments join in and the choir enters singing repeated detached notes in a fast exciting driving rhythm (reminiscent of John Adams). It develops into a huge expansive climax. A saxophone soars over the lot, and tympani and brass are in full flight – an exciting opening.

Composer Elena Kats-Chernin

Composer Elena Kats-Chernin

In the second movement, called “Cube”, the layering of the vocal lines, the harmonies and the moving bass line are very reminiscent of Bach. The orchestration is basically what Bach used with the addition of the saxophone which adds a colour that works well. Again a driving repetitive rhythm gives the piece energy and excitement. It is very well-crafted, and its celebratory nature is a perfect conclusion for this wonderful disc.

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