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Thomas Tallis' England - 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: -
A new season, an old classic, a reawakening
There is music that moves. And then there is music that reforms. It begins as though merely a thought: a melody floats through the air, at first barely perceptible. Gradually, it is repeated, gathering momentum and significance in every iteration. Soon, the melody is being tossed back and forth: sung by an instrument, sung by a section, sung by the orchestra. As you follow this interchange, the strains of the song begin to take root in you; in the entire audience. 90 minutes later when you leave the Orchestra Hall, the music hasn't stopped. The melody is being repeated again and again by the man with the cane, the girl with the nose ring, the women at the bar. It's the kind of music that could infect a nation.

Australian Brandenburg Orchestra
2018 launch of the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra


The Australian Brandenburg Orchestra has infected us with baroque in its 2018 season opening. The performance is a tribute to Thomas Tallis, the resilient, regenerative and foundational composer of English baroque music. Tallis lived and composed at a time of great upheaval in 16th century England. Over the course of his career, he saw the official state religion change back and forth four times from Catholic to Protestant depending on the preferences of the current monarch. As the court composer responsible for creating the state-sanctioned sacred music, to outlast such upheaval without losing one's head (perhaps literally) required great skill compositionally and politically. The result was that Tallis produced a grand and varied repertoire that shepherded the transition between the traditional music of the Catholic church, and the start of the baroque period.

In the first half of the program, the Brandenburg pays tribute to the influence of Tallis on subsequent English masters including Byrd, Handel and Gibbons. Accompanying the period instruments is the Brandenburg choir who perform a collection of meditative and hauntingly sacred songs. The choir is notable for their clearness of tone, the tenor section (often a weakness of many a choir) is particularly strong. The voices are beautifully arranged so that the effect is that of one union, as though each part is sung by a single voice. Max Riebl is the featured soloist. He is absolutely striking, particularly his rendition of Cold Song from King Arthur (c. Purcell) which when sung in his countertenor, imparted disquiet jittery chills to this audience who practically leaped to their feet with applause at the conclusion.
Australian Brandenburg Orchestra
Max Reibl


The second half is devoted to Tallis. Three pieces by the composer lead off and set the background for the climax of the program: Ralph Vaughan Williams' Fantasia on a theme by Thomas Tallis . Acapella voices are followed by a stringed tribute this juxtaposition providing both contrast and balance in their arrangement. The Fantasia features three groups in a sense: the newly-formed Brandenburg quartet, and a division of the orchestra into two. In total, this assemblage represents the Brandenburg's largest-ever orchestra of strings. If you're unfamiliar with the piece, I hesitate to suggest searching for a YouTube version no recording can compare to hearing a piece like this performed live. The echoing of the orchestras as they play off each other - diverging, repeating, and joining together - creates the reverberations that replay in the minds of the audience after the final note is strummed.

Australian Brandenburg Orchestra
The Brandenburg performs Vaughan Williams, Fantasia on theme by Thomas Tallis


We found this concert to be one of the most "traditional" performed by the Brandenburg thus far the focus is on the music, the arrangement is fantastic (though the pieces are likely unfamiliar to non-baroque lovers), and the theme on sacred choral music is topical given the Lenten season. But do not mistake an emphasis on "tradition" to mean something dull, dusty, and staid. Rather, this concert is itself a reformation, the reimagining of ideas that have been persisted throughout history first in sacred texts, then in the 16th century by Tallis, again in the 20th century by Vaughan Williams, and now, by each concertgoer as they walk home humming the strains of a now canonical melody.



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Why? Be reformed by baroque
When: 21 Feb to 3 March 2018
Phone: 1300782856
Where: City Recital Hall 2-12 Angel Pl Sydney NSW 2000
Cost: Varies
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