Australian Brandenburg Orchestra and choir are back for 2021, and the start of a complete live concert reunion of its Australian based musicians is just as accessible, elegant and exciting as ever.

In Rome from 1706, Handel, who later became an expat superstar of opera in London, realised the Roman Catholic Church would not welcome such entertainments. He made do by creating exciting music for this institution with great results.

In the absence of collaboration with soloists they typically attract from overseas, Artistic Director Paul Dyer dealt with the current environment and drew on his formidable stable of early music specialists to fulfil all needs for talented soloists and ensemble stars to render this programme a hit.

The programme began by drenching us in the integrity of ensemble expression and manipulation of string melody from Italian-born violin greats Corelli and Brescianello.

Many bravissimi must go to Dyer, for choosing the comfort of Corelli with Concerto Grosso works Opus 6 Nos 4 and 7. Italian Baroque style in the positive key of D major was a fine reward for loyal subscribers and others needing to be uplifted after the fractured nature of concert going.

It wouldn’t be a Brandenburg concert without some form of innovation to further gild the Baroque artistry. In this concert, baroque trumpets successfully joined in on string lines to enhance the popular string music with even more depth of timbre and flavour of rejoicing in the development of musical ideas.

Perth-based concertmaster, violinist Shaun Lee-Chen led the strings charismatically in a capable and solid reading of Italian violinist-composer Brescianello’s sunny Violin Concerto in C major, Bre 3.

This performance sparkled with excellent ensemble empathy as well as some fine lyricism from the soloist above his colleague’s lush accompanying tapestry.

A great sense of the solid symmetry and control demanded of violin virtuosos of the time was shown in Shaun Lee-Chen’s well-contoured performance. His delivery of the cadenza material was beautiful, balanced and breathtaking.

Handel and Brescianello swapped homelands eventually. It was Handel’s lending of his dramatic skill to the Church which resulted in the powerful storytelling of the Dixit Dominus HWV 232. The capable

instrumental and vocal resources assembled were well equipped to work with Dyer and each other to deliver the forceful Psalm 110 text, dealing with the combined strength and mystery of the Holy Trinity.

If a world or audience, spiritual or otherwise, ever needed to lose itself in themes of protection and safety, it was at this almost-fin-de pandemic time. As Handel gifted the Church with consummate skillsof expression, so did the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra and Choir seat us on a very strong and glorious side of glory. 

We were treated with a riveting Baroque overhaul of biblical song and celebration of Handel’s text setting virtuosity. From moments of the forceful choral exclamation in terrifying word painting about a wrathful god smashing skulls, to the exquisite soprano duet (Amy Moore, Chloe Lankshear and choir) elaborating on imagery of the face of God by a brook, this was a performance with captivating storytelling as well as vivid imagery, colour and contrast.

Austin Haynes gave a commandingly physical, theatrical presentation in effectively pointed alto voice to celebrate the strength of God’s rule and victory over enemies. This favourite Baroque work was an uplifting inclusion in the first Brandenburg concert. 

Choir, orchestra and conductor helped us to dive into the complex text, musical filigree and magic of Handel the dramatic, flexible expat.Following the fullness and thrill of this psalm setting’s ‘gloria patri’, there was a dense fugue of joyous applause. 

We left in the safe hope that live music as well as Brandenburg instrumentalists and vocalists will offer delight and protection of our faithful audience needs through 2021 and beyond.

Photography by Keith Saunders