For Australian Brandenburg Orchestra’s first Melbourne concert for 2015, the lure was in the title: Handel: Heaven and Harmony. That’s what Paul Dyer promised his orchestra, choir and guests would deliver – and of course, they did. With a program tailor-made to show off the strengths of the baroque specialists on stage, there were few surprises, but the audience appeared to enjoy every moment of what was offered – and why would they not?
Handel Sinfonia “Arrival of the Queen of Sheba” from Solomon HWV 67
Handel Cantata Look down, harmonious Saint HWV 124
Handel Ode For St Cecilia’s Day HWV 76
Handel Duet “Tra amplessi innocenti” from Cecilia, volgi un sguardo HWV 89
Mariana Flores soprano
Fernando Guimaraes tenor
Australian Brandenburg Orchestra
Artistic Director and Conductor – Paul Dyer
The Sinfonia, “Arrival of the Queen of Sheba”, from Solomon was the best-known piece and a sure-fire winner to begin. Successful performance depends on a steady, brisk rhythm – in perfect sync of course – but the temptation is always to rush. The ensemble was heard to most advantage in the legato section in the middle of the work, after which the performance went on to end with a flourish.
The winds’ departure from the stage was the signal for the tenor to arrive; this was Fernando Guimaraes, from Portugal, to sing from the Cantata “Look down, harmonious Saint”, (the saint being Cecilia, who inspired much of the music played on this occasion). Guimaraes gave a stylized performance, with a confident attack and attention to articulation, light and shade and phrasing. An orchestral interlude was confident and bright, and gave the singer time to draw breath before delivering the aria ‘Sweet accents all your numbers grace”, its long florid passages enhanced with rolled “r”s and other baroque affectations.
Music from the Ode For St Cecilia’s Day drew the Argentinian soprano Mariana Flores and the choir into the performance, although not before the orchestra had its chance to shine. The overture was stately and florid – with the strings seeming to ornament every note. Guimaraes’ slightly lugubrious sound was tempered by the resonance of his voice, with “Arise” a clarion call to the choir, the sopranos making the most of the passage “harmony to harmony”.
A duet for two cellos was mellow and Bach-like, with Flores having to give her all to match their resonance. The sound was more than matched by the air and chorus that closed this half of the concert, the orchestra providing the “trumpet’s loud clangour” and “the thundering drum” of the lyrics. Altogether, it was a fine Handelian burst of sound – with the promise of more to come.
The Ode For St Cecilia’s Day dominated the second half of the concert. After a stately procession, complete with drum rolls, the Air “The soft, complaining flute” had no one in the audience complaining as the soprano voice was matched, first with the flute and then the cello. The high point, as so often with Handel, came in the final moments. A bell-like recitative led to a grand polyphonic chorus – provoking pent-up applause from a delighted audience.
The Ode was over but St Cecilia had the last word in the duet “Tra amplessi innocenti” from Cecilia, volgi un sguardo, giving the soloists – and the orchestra – something of a “programmed encore” before they obliged with yet another. Both were fine examples of Handel’s heavenly harmony.
The picture is of George Frideric Handel, portrait by Thomas Hudson, 1756