BWW REVIEW: The Australian Brandenburg Orchestra and Brandenburg Choir's Staged Concert Of HANDEL'S MESSIAH Is A Feast For The Senses
Wednesday 22nd February 2017, 7pm, City Recital Hall, Sydney
HANDEL'S MESSIAH, one of the most iconic Baroque works is finally given the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra's exquisitely emotive and expressive treatment under the baton of Artistic Director and Conductor Paul Dyer. Diverting from traditional 'stand and deliver' performances favoured by other productions of this music, Dyer and staging director Constantine Costi have created an artfully staged production, drawing inspiration from Baroque masterpieces.
Diverting from traditional orchestral staging, the 24 members of the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra have been spread across the rear of the stage on two levels of risers behind Dyer's Harpsichord, making room for the four soloists and the Brandenburg Choir. Black sheers cover City Recital Hall's blonde timber panels whilst wooden chairs adorn the extended stage. Genevieve Graham and Charlotte Mungomery (Costume Concept) have set the choir off with white dresses with black belts for the women and white shirts accented with black seams and black trousers for the men. The male soloists Nicholas Spanos (Countertenor), Kyle Bielfield (Tenor) and David Greco (Bass) carry on the monochrome theme with their unique shirts and jackets whilst the female soloist Lucia Martin-Carton (Soprano) provides the colour in a sleek taupe dress and vibrant red caped gown. In an interesting move to ground the work and highlight Handel's desire for it to be accessible and inclusive, Costi has chosen to have the Entire company, from soloists to musicians, barefoot, which whilst not appearing to lighten footsteps, does turn the movement into more of a contemporary ballet, particularly Dyer's encouraging and energetic conducting.
According to the program, Dyer and Costi have drawn on four Baroque paintings as inspiration for the staging and division of the three part oratorio into four scenes based on Darkness to Light, The Dream, Shame and Mourning and Ecstatic Light. Structuring the performers into visually captivating images with the aid of Peter Rubie's lighting, the message of the beautiful music is enhanced, creating an engaging evening.
Dyer's direction ensures that the work is presented with an energy and texture that captures the brightness and gravity of the work in turn. As always, he coaxes the music out of the orchestra, choir and soloists in a way that that conveys a respect, passion and connection to both the music and performers rarely seen in other conductors which adds to the experience.
The four soloists, drawn from around the world help capture the wonderful music that Costi has rightfully likened to paintings in their colour, shade, brightness and darkness. Each practitioner of the more unique baroque style, captures the emotion necessary of the small pieces of stories expressions of feelings. Spanish Lucia Martin-Carton has a clear, pure soprano tone and her playful storytelling in He Shall Feed His Flock carries an innocent, wide eyed childlike joy as she utilises the full stage. American Tenor Kyle Bielfield has a wonderful control and intensity which lightens to floating swells particularly in Comfort ye my people and Ev're Valley Shall Be Exalted. Greek Countertenor Nicholas Spanos has an ethereal falsetto which he can infuse with texture particularly in the sad, restrained He Was Despised which conveys an anger in the intensity which moves to a lightness as he transitions through the range of the work. Australian Bass, who was part of the Brandenburg Choir before going on to international acclaim, David Greco conveys the ominous and mysteriousness For Behold, Darkness Shall Cover The Earth while giving the piece a tone of hope. His duet with Baroque Trumpet player Leanne Sullivan for The Trumpet Shall Sound reunites the pair for a textured conversational storytelling which has sensitivity in the gravity of the work, accompanied by the bright trumpet instrumentation.
The Brandenburg Choir fills out the night by providing a more universal voice to the works that range from uplifting worship to weighty contemplations. As with other Brandenburg Choir performances, it is refreshing to see a choir that allows individual personality to be expressed, expressing a passion for the music and a joy in performing. Some of Costi's blocking makes the presentation a little awkward, but for the most part, the choir, which ranges in presentation from capture of a casual movement to more ordered traditional lines, provides images that link the expression back to the canvas inspirations.
The Australian Brandenburg Orchestra and Brandenburg Choir's presentation of HANDEL'S MESSIAH is a must see performance. For those fearful of sitting through a formal, concert delivery, this barefoot staging adds an additional engaging element that helps tell the stories and ensures that the work is more captivating. Regardless of religious beliefs, this popular work captures universal emotions of love, adoration, hope, fear, anger and isolation so can be understood and enjoyed by all people.
The Australian Brandenburg Orchestra HANDEL'S MESSIAH
Sydney: City Recital Hall
Wednesday 22 February 7pm
Friday 24 February 7pm
Wednesday 1 March 7pm
Friday 3 March 7pm
Saturday 4 March 7pm
Matinee: Saturday 4 March 2pm
Melbourne: Melbourne Recital Centre
Saturday 25 February 7pm
Sunday 26 February 5pm
Photos: Steven Godbee