Elinor Frey cellist, Classical music whatson Sydney Australia NSW concert reviews Brandenburg orchestra


What's on Sydney NSW Australia Baroque Classical Music concert review and critiques. Brandenburg Orchestra.
Flamenco dancer Yioda Wilson with Australian Brandenburg Orchestra perform Fandango from Boccherini’s Guitar Quintet No. 4. Photo: Keith Saunders


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Friday night, the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra kicked off their 2023 season with a lively, culturally rich program titled Spanish Steps. Guest artists featured were cellist Elinor Frey and flamenco dancer Yioda Wilson. It was a varied program with surprises all along the way.

Designer Alexander Berlage created a set in the shape of a rectangle bordered with a raised LED lit rim, then filled with wet-look vinyl or plastic in fiery red. First impression was that the orchestra were sitting in a pool of blood. The LED changed colours through the evening and spotlights highlighted featured artists.

An intro was offered using a Spanish Voice Over but the words were fast and not completely clear so the audience sat in silence. The orchestra opened the program with the strangest sound scape. It was easy to assume the work of Boccherini had been modernised but, no, this was played true to score. Boccherini lived in the Classical period when you could expect music to be predictable, usually set within a strict format.

“La Musica Notturna delle strade di Madrid” (Night time music of a Madrid street) offered a series of musical images of what might pass by your window at nighttime, living in Madrid. A brass band, gossiping beggars, church bells, ladies with rosary beads, soldiers being called back to barracks, all very natural with little structure. The sounds might draw near to your window then fade as they pass by and travel further up the street. There was even silence between events as would be natural. It was an intriguing piece and would have been much more enjoyable with an intro. Researching it in the program printed in white text on a red background made it difficult to read in the soft lights of the concert hall so, it is recommended you read about the piece before the concert.

Artistic Director Paul Dyer began his intro after this piece. He spoke about his former trip to Rome where he visited the Spanish Steps, hence the title for the concert. Built in the early 1700’s, this magnificent series of stairways was funded by French, built by Italians, inspired by the Spanish Embassy – first Embassy in the world – at the bottom of the steps. Seeing something Spanish in the middle of Rome might have been as unusual as finding Italian composer Boccherini dwelling in Spain.

Boccherini originally visited there for general work as a cellist (he was an exceptional concert soloist already) as a teenager in 1761. He soon found himself in the employ of the Infante Don Luis, brother of Carlos III, King of Spain. This sounds like it would have been a great gig however, Don Luis made a grab for the throne and was exiled, along with his employees – including Boccherini – who then could not leave. Once Don Luis had passed away, it appears Boccherini  was settled and stayed in Madrid for the rest of his life.

Most of the program featured his excellent works with only one exception. Sometimes the works were what you would expect, other times they were filled with the rich rhythms and dance of Spain. Very unique and it was hard to keep still in your seat.

Guest cello soloist from Canada, Elinor Frey, appeared for the second work in the concert. “Boccherini’s Cello Concerto No. 9” is an extremely difficult work which Frey flitted over with such a feminine interpretation. She seemed very relaxed taking her seat on the riser and joined the orchestra with minimum fuss or flourish. Predominantly a teacher and researcher, you could feel her great passion for sharing her love of period music. The claret coloured dress tended to fade into the background a little too much but her second appearance in gold silk trousers matched the instruments perfectly and made a picture perfect centrepiece in the spotlight.

Sometimes she was leading the orchestra, other times in musical conversation with various soloists around her. Dyer was grinning from ear to ear throughout most of the concert. It felt like a very personal choice of music for him and the audience loved what he chose.

Frey was filled with smiles for the audience throughout her performance. No printed info was available on the cellos she used. The first was regular size and, in the second half of the concert, she appeared with a piccolo cello. Smaller in size, it rests on the calves and is tuned one octave below the violin. She seemed even more comfortable with this unusual instrument. The Sammartini “Concerto for Piccolo Cello, Strings and Continuo” was delicious and joyous. The audience loved her, giving enough long applause for several curtain calls.

Frey completed her duties by the second to last item in the program. As stage hands brought out additional music stands adding woodwind and natural horns to fill the stage for the finale, they also brought an extra chair for the cello section. This raised the curiosity of the audience. In semi darkness, Ms Frey tiptoed on and joined the ranks. A giggle arose seeing her arrive. She put her finger to her lips signalling “mum’s the word” which increased the laughter. The sign of a truely passionate artist is one who you cannot scrape off the stage until the music has ended.

Second half also featured local Flamenco dancer Yioda Wilson dressed in red and black – too much red in this program. It was a tail gown, true to the 18th Century, relatively close cut to the knees, then a cloud of ruffles that trail behind the dancer. These gowns are difficult to manipulate and the audience, unfamiliar with the technique, would chuckle as she kicked the tail to manoeuvre it around her body. She began with some zapateado footwork, then joined the very familiar Fandango by Boccherini from his “Guitar Quintet No. 4” using castanets. This is a magnificent piece of music  arranged for the whole orchestra which was superb. (Video link below to jog your memory.)

The final piece for the night was a movement from Boccherini’s “La Casa del Diavolo” (The Devil’s House) had hairs on the arms standing on end. An absolutely thrilling piece, fiercely played by all on stage. Dyer would alternate between playing harpsichord and occasionally leaping up with a flutter of the fingers or shaking his fist as musical direction for the players. The audience erupted into great applause. What a stunning way to finish such a diverse program.

Spanish Steps will play at the City Recital Hall until 10 March 2023. This is one Baroque concert where you’ll never get bored. Beautifully programmed, it will keep your interest throughout. Highly recommended.


  • La Musica Notturna delle strade di Madrid Op 30 no 6. – BOCCHERINI
  • Cello Concerto No 9, G 482 – BOCCHERINI
  • Grave assai and Fandango from Guitar Quintet no 4, G 448 – BOCCHERINI
  • Concerto for piccolo cello, strings and continuo J-C 69 – SAMMARTINI
  • Allegro assai con moto from La Casa del Diavolo, Symphony in D minor op 12 No 4 G 506 – BOCCHERINI

Related links

Next concerts from Australian Brandenburg Orchestra :  https://www.brandenburg.com.au/live-concerts/

What else is happening at City Recital hall: https://www.cityrecitalhall.com/whats-on/

More about cello soloist Elinor Frey: http://www.elinorfrey.com/en/bio.php

Boccherini’s Fandango featuring Nina Corti playing Flamenco castanets: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QrdeD8LLoCM 

Featured image : Cellist Elinor Frey guest soloist with Australian Brandenburg Orchestra Spanish Steps. Photo: Keith Saunders