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Bittersweet Obsessions: Monteverdi & Bach - Australian Brandenburg Orchestra

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by An epicurean and a plebian (subscribe)
One of us likes the simple things, the other, adventure. But for better or worse, we are dining partners for life! We aim to provide you 2 perspectives in our reviews. After all, there's no wrong way to eat a reese's; or a jalebi. -Plebe Epicure
Event: -
Love, tears, and coffee - what else could there be?
Australian Brandenburg Orchestra
Obsessions of the ABO
It's a ghostly scene, befitting of the upcoming hallow's eve: a maiden wanders through wheat fields, mourning the loss of her lover on a fog-filled night. She's accompanied by the music of a bygone day, plucked from instruments whose antiquated tones haunt our ears as she is haunted by memories. She sings of her loss, his betrayal, her doom. And finds no solace in the three singers who follow her through the night, narrating her fate. It is with this eerie scene that the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra opens an evening of Bittersweet Obsessions.

The performance is the most recent in what is proving to be a compelling collaboration between Dyer and Constantine Costi, the choreographer/director behind the dramatic staging of Handel's Messiah earlier this year. Bittersweet Obsessions ups the ante from artfully arranging the singers to adding more thoughtful, theatrical touches. A simplistic backdrop is accentuated by mindful costuming and small details - an exposed tattoo under the ripped sleeve of our tormented narrator, the clink of real porcelain coffee cups. A few opening-night hiccups aside, the attention to theatrical details deepens the complexity of the performance by complementing the interweaving, moving and occasionally dissonant melodies of the instruments.

The program is billed as a story of three tales of one woman. That woman's stories are told in the resonant voice of soprano Natasha Wilson, who we last saw with the Brandenburg in 'Spanish Baroque.' Her clear, carrying tone is perfectly bittersweet and befitting the characters in Monteverdi's Lamento della ninfa and Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda. So it comes as some surprise when the warm melancholy of Wilson's voice transforms into the saucy crooning of a tempestuous teen addicted to coffee in Bach's Coffee Cantata, BWV 211. Both the voices of Wilson and her antagonist, bass-baritone Jakob Bloch Jespersen, play off each other to convincingly impart both the ecstasies of embattled lovers and the trills and airs of a father/daughter feud in the most fancily-crafted coffee jingle of all time.
Australian Brandenburg Orchestra
Wilson, Sulayman and Jespersen get their coffee fix

Though skilled they were, I was particularly drawn to tenor Karim Sulayman whose sustained phrases in Il combattimento were chilling. Yet his stage presence is what made him so exceptionally compelling. While others erred on the edge of over-dramatic, Sulayman was convincingly helpless and affected the narrator whose curse is to see all, but never intervene. In Coffee Cantata, he struck that careful balance between the farcical and caricature which is the stuff of good satire.
Australian Brandenburg Orchestra
Karim Sulayman's stage presence is obsession-worthy

The backbone of the whole evening was, of course, the orchestra. Tonight is dominated by strings, and we are treated to several less well-known instruments including the Lirone and Violone. The Baroque Guitar and Violin both feature in two respective pieces. The former is expertly played by Tommie Andersson in the opening number, Toccata arpeggiata . This piece, composed by Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger, is unique in that it will rarely twice sound the same - the composer only left a series of chords of which each group or player must make sense to the best of their artistic talent. And the violin is beautifully featured by concertmaster Shaun Lee-Chen in the orchestra's namesake, Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 BWV 1049.

Australian Brandenburg Orchestra
Artistic director Dyer with the Brandenburg
If there was one bittersweet thought about tonight's performance, it was the absence of a piece (or two?) in the printed bulletin. And the lack of an encore to which we are often treated (particularly with featured artists). But 2018 brings a new season and one that seems full of glamour and flare. After the 2017 year of inventive, skilfully crafted and inspirational performances, I've definitely developed an obsession for baroque.
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Why? Obsess over Baroque
When: Sydney - 25, 27, 28, 31 Oct & 1 Nov at 7pm
Phone: 1300 782 856
Where: City Recital Hall 2-12 Angel Pl Sydney NSW 2000
Cost: $37-$175
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