Concert reviews Australian Brandenburg Orchestra Baroque Kaleidoscope City Recital Hall May 2024


Australian Brandenburg Orchestra geared up for another high vibe concert at the City Recital Hall. Artistic Director Paul Dyer was his usual perky self making a welcome and introduction. Inspiration for the concert title “Baroque Kaleidoscope” came from his visit to Palm Springs in the USA where he saw a magnificent kaleidoscope. Although as a child, many of us had a little toy one made of tin, they are much harder to find these days. It was always irresistible to pick one up and be entertained by the unending array of mirrored images which changed when you tilt the shaft or rotate the cap at the end of the shaft. Dyer based the program on “2”s seeking out music suitable for two soloists accompanied by strings.

The orchestra threw themselves into a Vivaldi “Sinfonia” (later known as the opera Overture) for his opera “Il Giustino”. The opening movement was fierce and pounding like heading out for an early morning run. Traditionally, the second Andante movement would be quiet and slow. This version was faster than stately followed by the final Allegro movement which also seemed keen to finish as soon as possible. Each composer in this program is well known for writing music which is bright and cheerful. The program was full of these works with slightly changing colour, much like the kaleidoscope in the title.

Concertmaster Shaun Lee-Chen had plenty of opportunity to show off his technical skill in solo work as well as opposite his “2” violinist Ben Dollman on the other side of the stage. They worked well together in “Handel’s Concerto Grosso HWV 319” with call and response in the opening movement. Despite containing 5 movements, the work is short, designed to sit between acts in one of Handel’s oratorios – like a baby concerto used as an entr’acte. The final triple time movement was pure delight.

Shaun Lee-Chen and Melissa Farrow with Australian Brandenburg Orchestra at City Recital Hall Sydney Australia concert revews
Soloists Shaun Lee-Chen and Melissa Farrow perform with the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra at City Recital Hall Sydney Australia. Photo: Keith Saunders.

Much loved soloist of Baroque Flute, Melissa Farrow, arrived on stage to play with Lee-Chen in Telemann’s “Concerto for Flute and Violin TWV 52:e3″. This was perhaps the most interesting and diverse piece of the program with a light and crispy opening movement, the Adagio using soloists over a background of pizzicato, then Presto and Adagio/Allegro again performed at such speed it disappeared like a whisp on the wind and was over before we could blink.

The close to the first half of the concert was Lee-Chen and Dollman out front again for a ferocious Vivaldi piece with which most were familiar, his “Concerto for two Violins RV 522”.

Another popular work came after interval, Handel’s “Arrival of the Queen of Sheba” featuring the “2” oboes of Adam Masters plus Kailen Cresp standing in last minute for a player who was ill. They did a terrific job working together and the tempo was perfect.

More from Handel and his “Concerto Grosso HWV 325” lead by Lee-Chen. The first Largo movement made a wonderful contrast to the previous work with deep, slow strokes from the strings but, once again, the Allegro took off a break neck speed causing the orchestra to be not as cohesive as they could have been. The final “Hornpipe” had Dyer grooving along which raised a giggle from the crowd. He was still grooving as he turned to bow at the close of the piece.

The Hornpipe and following work by Albinoni “Concerto a 5 in F major Op. 9 No. 3” made great use of “2” baroque guitars doubling on theorbos. For some reason, these instruments often tend to be drowned in the orchestral mix when recorded for albums. Here, on the stage where the acoustics are so wonderful, is the best place to appreciate how much the over all sound is enhanced by these instruments. The result becomes far more rich and lush. You cannot beat the live experience!

Farrow returned to perform a single movement from “Concerto for Flute in G major” believed to be composed by the ill-fated Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (who passed away when he was only 26.) Farrow really shone in this movement with her superb phrasing and musicality dancing over the notes, different each line. Closing the program was another fierce Vivaldi movement featuring Lee-Chen at 100 miles per hour.

The debate has arisen before about tempi for Baroque music and was heard again in the foyer after this concert. Whilst the musicians are using authentic instruments that can be 200-300 years old, strung with gut strings and using HIP (historically informed performance) technique, is the effect complete when the works are played so very fast? Were they designed to be so? It certainly is opportunity for a soloist to show off their virtuoso skills yet, the basso continuo becomes muddy. When the foundation dissolves behind the melody, the work can become less satisfying for the listener.

A super fast tempo also makes it harder for soloists and the orchestra to stay in unity, even with wonderful musicians as we heard tonight. When there is no space between the notes, it is like eating a degustation meal with no breaks between courses. There is no chance to savour a particular phrase or to remember much about what was played. By dropping the tempo a little, it makes every part so much easier to hear, appreciate and digest. It gives the musicians themselves a chance to really interpret and express the music. Just food for thought…

Over all, the concert was well received. We love our Brandenburg players and look forward to their return to the City Recital Hall in July after the regional tour.


VIVALDI – Sinfonia from Il Giustino RV 717
HANDEL – Concerto Grosso in G major, Op. 6 No. 1 HWV 319
TELEMANN – Concerto for Flute and Violin in E minor, TWV 52: e3
VIVALDI – Concerto for 2 Violins in A minor from L’estro armonico, Op. 3 No. 8 RV 522
HANDEL – The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba from Solomon, HWV 67
HANDEL – Concerto Grosso in B-flat major, Op. 6 No. 7 HWV 325
ALBINONI – Concerto a 5 in F major, Op. 9 No. 3
PERGOLESI (attributed) – Concerto for Flute in G major P 33
VIVALDI – Concerto for Violin in D major, RV 222


Artistic Director / Harpsichord – Paul Dyer
Concertmaster / Violin – Shaun Lee-Chen
Violin – Ben Dollman
Flute – Melissa Farrow
Oboes – Adam Masters and Kailen Cresp
Australian Brandenburg Orchestra

Related Music Links

Next concerts from the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra:
Read more about Pergolesi. There doesn’t seem to be any formal portrait, only an extremely ugly caricature. If he were so very talented, is this perspective of him skewed by jealousy?
What’s on at City Recital Hall?

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