Left - Genevieve Lacey
In the 20 years since the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra was first formed, they have performed Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons four times. However, Sunday’s performance of the work was Vivaldi with a twist: instead of a violinist, the solo part was played by Australian recorder virtuoso Genevieve Lacey, who arranged the violin part for period recorders. Lacey has been performing and recording with this orchestra for the last ten years and it is clearly a mutually enthusiastic and appreciative musical partnership.
Although The Four Seasons was the star of the show, the concert opened with another Vivaldi work: Gloria in D major, scored for soprano, mezzo-soprano, choir and orchestra. Apparently written originally for an all-female choir in Venice, the choral music still includes tenor and bass vocal parts which would have been sung by women with unusually low voices. The choir for the Melbourne performances included singers from both the Choir of Trinity College (University of Melbourne) and the Melbourne Grammar School Chapel Choir. It was lovely to see young people given the opportunity to perform with a world-class period orchestra in a professional setting. While the choir lacked strength and were a little hesitant on occasion, they were a dedicated group of musicians who will only improve in this kind of performance environment.
The solo soprano part was sung by Belinda Montgomery, who performed her aria with a light and gentle tone and a beautiful shaping of melody. She was sensitively accompanied by oboe player Kirsten Barry. Mezzo-soprano Fiona Campbell’s voice is startlingly rich and deep and her execution of the long first note of her aria displayed impressive control and musicality. The Australian Brandenburg Orchestra were a delight to hear in this work; the spirit and energy that these musicians bring to their performance is refreshing and uplifting and their enjoyment of the music they play is infectious.
I had been looking forward to the performance of The Four Seasons with some anticipation. Genevieve Lacey is a performer I have heard several times this year and her faultless musicianship, astounding virtuosity and enthusiasm for new music or new takes on old music have always impressed me. She says that the recorder ‘feels very natural, and it’s like there are very few obstacles between what I’m thinking and the sound that I make.’ This is exactly how she comes across as a performer: her instrument seems to be simply an extension of her breath and her musical thought.
However, I felt that despite an excellent performance from both Lacey and the orchestra, the experiment was not entirely successful. At times, Lacey could only just be heard above the orchestra and at other times her solo line was completely drowned out, not because the orchestra was too loud but simply because the recorder was not loud enough. The more melodic, singing nature of the slow movement in each concerto allowed the recorder to really come into its own and Lacey’s interpretation of Spring was especially well-suited to her instrument with its spirited, trilling bird calls. But the fire and fury that are usually heard in parts of Autumn and Winter lost power with the more airy, ethereal sound of the recorder. Lacey’s incredible technical skill was in fine form, but it seemed that sometimes its full impact was weakened because of competition from the orchestra.
I don’t mean to suggest that this performance was not a worthwhile project or that the musicians did not play well, but simply that as an experiment it had mixed success. Nevertheless, the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra (and Lacey) should be praised for their courage and commitment to taking the path less travelled, particularly considering the fact that they are a period instrument orchestra which leaves them less room for innovation.
For me, the highlight of the evening’s music was an encore performed by Lacey and accompanied by Anthea Cottee on the lirone, a 16th and 17th century string instrument held between the knees in the same way as a baroque cello. The two musicians played a beautiful, meditative traditional Irish lament and Lacey’s recorder finally filled the concert hall in a way that had been missing throughout The Four Seasons.
Australian Brandenburg Orchestra presents
Venue: Melbourne Recital Centre
Dates: May 17 & 18
Tickets: $45 – $110
Bookings: melbournerecital.com.au | 03 9699 3333