Solace & Joy: Music of the German Baroque

Saturday 26 November 2022, St Peter’s Cathedral

Next year will mark the 50th anniversary of the foundation, here in Adelaide, of Australia’s first dedicated early music ensemble. And for more than 40 years, Adelaide Baroque has been a national leader for its championing of authentic performance, and a knack for programming that’s second to none.

Their programs have explored the byways of early music, with many an unfamiliar name, but in their final concert for 2022, Solace and Joy: Music of the German Baroque, it was back to basics: JS Bach and a spot of Handel for good measure.

And what Bach is better-known than the so-called “Air on the G String” which was a quite perfect opener. For all its familiarity, what an exquisite piece it is, and how sensitively it was played. A cantata followed, Komm du süße Todesstunde BWV 161, one of many dealing with the inevitable journey towards death. Alto (Nicolas Tolputt) and tenor (Richard Black) soloists both have fine arias, the former with some exciting writing and the latter with some delicious word-painting on “verlangen” (longing) with tense, taut suspensions.

The elegant A Minor concerto for violin and strings BWV 1041 showed guest leader Rachael Beesley in full flourish, even if the performance was somewhat subdued. A trio of arias began the second half, with the other soloists Jessica Dean (soprano) and Alex Roose (bass) also making their presence felt.

Probably the most interesting piece was the Brandenburg Concerto No 6 BWV 1051. With violas da gamba and no violins, it stands apart, and any performance is an occasion. The orchestra was slow in settling, with some awkward intonation in the first movement, though this sorted itself out in due course.

The Handel was a rare performance of his setting of the Latin hymn Gloria in excelsis with Jessica Dean in scintillating form. It’s a youthful piece, and at times recklessly exuberant, but then again, immature Handel is still better than just about everyone else. The vocal writing is spectacular, with the opening movement and especially the Amen counting as virtuosic displays of coloratura fireworks. Brava!

There was a certain melancholy in the air, for the recent, incomprehensible decision not to renew the ensemble’s State funding means it may well be their last concert, at least in this expanded form. That would be an utter tragedy in the self-proclaimed State of the Arts.

​— Peter Burdon, The Advertiser

London 1824

Sunday 13 November 2022, North Adelaide Baptist Church

An elegant assembly of cultured people, copious amounts of champagne, a buffet table laden with truffled goose and exquisite pastries, accompanied by beautiful music – this seems to be out of step with the times we live in.

Maybe they do happen, I just don’t get invited. If you are planning a soiree though, you should definitely engage Heidi von Bernewitz, Thomas Marlin and Rob Nairn to provide the perfect musical entertainment.

These three excellent local musicians presented a truly delightful program based on what might have been played at such a soiree in London in 1824.

The music was rich in humour and wit, from Rossini and Haydn, whom you expect to be funny, and Beethoven, whom you possibly do not.

More serious, but no less enjoyable were fascinating works by Corelli and the practically forgotten Michael Kirsten.

It was all superbly played, with the musicians showing a keen appreciation of the inherent humour and shifting moods of the music. This was yet another splendid concert from Adelaide Baroque, which has enriched our cultural life over many decades.

​— Stephen Whittington, The Advertiser

Emma Horwood and Anne Whelan

16 October 2022, North Adelaide Baptist Church

This was a delicious sonic experience. The program of secular and sacred works from the French Baroque lovingly and carefully assembled, sympathetic resonances of North Adelaide Baptist Church and Emma Horwood in fine voice all contributed. Anne Whelan’s accumulated knowledge and skill shone through her warm-hearted harpsichord playing adding immeasurably to the finished article.

Furthermore, her veteran 1978 harpsichord by William Bright seemed to have matured over the years like a good wine, producing less edgy and more roseate tones that merged well with Horwood’s soundscape.

Horwood’s singing always resembles a variety of instruments rather than simply a voice, as she consistently coaxes an amazing range of colours and tone qualities to suit expressive needs.

Whether the voices at Louis XIV’s court would have emulated or surpassed that flexibility can’t be determined but she certainly produced an immaculate tour de force over an hour and twenty minutes without interval.

Clear diction was the only major casualty and perhaps forgivable when the voice is pursuing so many twists and turns.

Undoubtedly, François Couperin’s Pour le Mercredy and Louis-Nicolas Clérambaut’s L’Amour piqué par une abeille were the program’s main pillars. Frequently depicted in art, Cupid Stung by a Bee receives vivid and often virtuoso musical treatment in Clérambaut’s hands and both Horwood and Whelan generated great élan, rhythmic drive and vivid textures throughout.

The Couperin, liturgical settings for Holy Week, proved a complex and delicately constructed canvass. Horwood plumbed its depths with formidable purpose.

​— Rodney Smith

Jewel of the City: Music of Dresden

7 August 2022, Elder Hall, University of Adelaide

Adelaide Baroque’s ambitious orchestral series continues with a concert evocatively entitled Jewel of the City: Music of Dresden. There’s no doubt about the splendour of the musical life of the Saxon capital in the 18th century, with a spectacular musical establishment at the court, along with the development of the chamber orchestra and an opera tradition that was the envy of Europe. The program hinted enticingly at the riches of the period.

Things got off to a regal start with the splendour of natural horns with Johann David Heinichen’s Concerto in F, its four movements all giving members of the orchestra time to shine, with some particularly fine recorder work. It was a suitably grand introduction to mezzo soprano soloist Sally-Anne Russell, with the first of a number of sensational arias from popular operas of the period.

Russell is one of Australia’s most versatile singers, from bel canto to the baroque, and her extraordinary versatility was much on show, from coloratura lightness and agility to tremendous intensity in the long, slow passages in ‘Alto Giove’ from Porpora’s Polifemo.

The other orchestral pieces showed similar variety, from pure Vivaldi in his Concerto in F RV569 with the horns in hunting mode to the fascinating Imitation des caractères de la danse from the famed court composer Johann Georg Pisendel, a 7-minute summary of baroque style and elegance. Every member of the 17-strong ensemble gave their all, with director Ben Dollman in particular contributing many dazzling solo passages.

Adelaide Baroque’s enterprise in mounting these concerts is to be strongly commended, and fully deserved the large and appreciative audience that it attracted.

​— Peter Burdon, The Advertiser

Jewel of the City: Music of Dresden

7 August 2022, Elder Hall, University of Adelaide

Women were all the rage in Baroque opera. Literally.

They may have been oppressed by society of the times but on the opera stage you could hear them roar. In ‘rage arias’ they vented their fury on cruel gods, deceitful men, scheming women and anybody else who annoyed them. Sally-Anne Russell distilled pure anger in rage arias by Hasse, Orlandini and Ristori. Evidently being angry brings on fits of vocal gymnastics which she was more than a match for. With a lovely, rich and mellow mezzo soprano voice, Sally-Anne Russell also showed another more tender and expressive side in beautifully fashioned arias by Porpora and Hasse.

This concert celebrated the glory days of Dresden during a few decades either side of 1700, when its population was about the same as Mount Gambier – the difference being that Dresden had enlightened rulers who generously patronised the arts. Stars of the instrumental parts of this program were Sarah Barrett and Emma Gregan, doing a splendid job playing notoriously cranky natural horns whose raucous sound is one of the joys of Baroque music on period instruments. The composers ranged from the great Vivaldi to Meinichen and Zelenka who are now reduced to mere footnotes to musical history but were excellent musicians. The standard of performance throughout was impressive, as the orchestra, under the leadership of Ben Dollman, continues to grow in stature and confidence.

​— Stephen Whittington, The Advertiser

Forces of Nature: A French Encounter

21 May 2022, Elder Hall, University of Adelaide

History brought to life in evocative, emotive performances.

Forces of Nature combined stylish historically-informed performance with innovative programming.

On a stage adorned with native flora, the Adelaide Baroque Orchestra performed a program that explored the power of the natural world through music from 17th-18th century France and 21st century Australia.

Opening the concert was a suite from Marin Marais’ opera Alcyone. Adelaide Baroque’s attention to detail in phrasing, articulation and dynamics really brought to life the imagery in this charming set of pieces, which included movements depicting fauns, shepherds, sailors and a storm.

Jean-Fery Rebel’s Le Chaos is one of the most harmonically adventurous works to come out of the French Baroque Era. Adelaide Baroque again captured the imagery of the work, with vigorous, energetic playing and really satisfying intonation in the movement’s many dissonant moments.

The French Violin by Australian composer Padma Newsome was written in response to the firestorm on New Year’s Eve of 2019. This highly engaging work is in five movements. The second movement combined antiphonal string pizzicato with a lyrical solo violin melody, played with warmth and nuance by Ben Dollman, while the fourth movement featured a pathos-infused solo from cellist Thomas Marlin.

The second half of the concert was a pastiche of arias and dances drawn from Baroque operas. Soprano Kate MacFarlane, as always, gave a beautiful and emotive performance.

​— Melanie Walters, The Advertiser

Forces of Nature: A French Encounter

21 May 2022, Elder Hall, University of Adelaide

Forces of Nature: A French Encounter brought glorious music to Elder Hall in a fascinating and imaginative program.

Ben Dollman speculated in his program notes on what would have happened if Baudin had claimed the state of South Australia for France, and not Flinders for Great Britain. This review might have begun ‘I went last night to the Salle des Concerts on Boulevard du Nord, close to the intersection of Grand Boulevard Napoleon which leads to Place des Victoires, dominated by the larger than life-size bronze of our first emperor.’

The establishment of the Adelaide Baroque Orchestra has given Adelaide audiences an opportunity to experience the tones and textures of authentic instruments and, more importantly, masterworks of the European tradition. This concert certainly lived up to their mission, and also featured a new work by an Australian composer. While it is often the case that the stage for a concert might have a floral display or two, the stage was lavishly furnished with Australian native plants and greenery, a veritable shrubbery. Those plants later played a significant role in the performance.

For reasons not unconnected, I surmise, to the fact that Louis loved to dance, French composers developed the Opera Ballet, in which the music for dance had equal standing with the vocal music.

The concert began with a selection of pieces from Alcyone, by Marin Marais (1656-1728). The forces of nature in this work included a series of storms at sea for which the orchestral ensemble was expanded to include a wind machine and a thunder sheet, which made their appearance in the Ouverture. They appeared again in La Tempete. The standout for me was Marche pour les matelots et matelotes, a gorgeously rhythmic piece, worth tracking down on Youtube. This was followed by one movement from the ballet Les Elemens, by Jean Fery Rebel. Rebel chose to represent the Chaos from which the world was formed with an opening chord, still as remarkable today as it was when first heard. Every note of the D minor scale is heard fortissimo before the instruments roll and pitch like waves. Over this forceful playing, the recorder of Brendan O’Donnell sailed gracefully like a bird, like the spirit of God over the waters establishing order. It was exquisite.

The concert was the occasion of the premiere performance of The French Violin by Australian composer Padma Newsome, in an arrangement he made for the ABO forces and the particular timbres of the instruments of that time. It was a response to the fires that ravaged his home community at Mallacoota in 2019. The composer had removed to safety, carrying with him his own instrument and a French violin, a Didier Nicolas of the 1820s. This had been given to him by his friends, the Martin family, who lost their home in the conflagration.

Newsome’s fascination with French Baroque dance is shared with his dancer/choreographer wife, Susannah Keebler, and he quoted, as an influence, the Orchesographie of Toinot Arbeau the first great historian of social dance in the 16th century. It began with Newsome, described as an alto in the musicians list, singing wordless melismas with soprano Kate Macfarlane, and followed through with translucent musicality, as a series of brief movements along the line of a French Baroque suite of dances. One final movement was a beautiful lament for solo cello in the capable hands of Tom Marlin.

The second half of the concert made it clear why the stage was so bedecked with Australian botany. The French word ‘Pastiche’ and the Italian ‘Pasticcio’ refer to something cooked up with a variety of ingredients, in this case, dances and airs from a variety of French composers, predominantly Rameau, but also Leclair, Marais, Lully, and Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre. Kate McFarlane, in green, took the stage and delivered with an articulate intensity some of the masterworks of the French repertoire in a context of the natural world and grief. She moved gracefully, sometimes caressing the leaves and, at one point, collapsed in resignation.

For me, it was a thrill to hear this music, some of it familiar and some pointing me towards Youtube for further exploration. It’s also a matter of great personal pleasure to have witnessed the earliest manifestations of the French Baroque in Adelaide. Philippe Beaussant was a foundation lecturer at Flinders University who went on to join forces with William Christie and Les Arts Florissants. Etiennette Fennell sang with the Armidian players, and Dene Barnett, in the philosophy department, was the author of a major text on the rhetoric of Baroque gesture. This culminated in the 1972 Adelaide Festival production of Pigmalion by Rameau on a specially erected platform in the Bonython Hall. Set and costumes were recreated from the original designs. It was performed, under candlelight, and I was one of the small costumed semi-chorus.

​— Ewart Shaw,



Cathedral Bach

13 November 2021, St Peter’s Cathedral

An uplifting performance celebrating life through the music and times of J.S. Bach.

The ensemble Adelaide Baroque has established a unique position in Adelaide’s musical scene, and has gained a substantial public following through its excellent and thoroughly informed performances of Baroque repertoire. This concert, featuring some of Bach’s most popular works, was intended as a celebration of the 300th anniversary of the production of Bach’s six Brandenburg Concerti. However, changes to the anticipated program involved the omission of the originally planned Brandenburg Concerto No 6, Bach’s final in the series. Instead, we were treated to a cantata by Buxtehude and a homage to Bach by contemporary Adelaide composer Graeme Koehne to round out what amounted to an overview of Bach’s musical era and his legacy. Both the Buxtehude and Koehne works placed Bach’s immense oeuvre in a musical and historical context, confirming Bach’s pivotal position in Western music (as if any confirmation was still needed) and the broader significance of his work socially and culturally.

The evening opened with Bach’s Suite No 3 in D Major, BWV 1068, performed with its original instrumentation of strings and continuo — evidently Bach added trumpets, timpani and oboes in a later version. The original is a captivatingly mellifluous work for strings, and, led by outstanding Baroque violin specialist Simone Slattery, the ensemble’s playing was superb — tightly controlled and fluent, with all the delicious textures that can only be realised with period instruments. The suite’s second movement, ‘Air on a G String’, has become a musical cliché, but in this performance, it was recharged with all its ethereal grace and beauty.

The feature work of the evening was Bach’s secular cantata Weichet nur, betrübte Schatten, BWV 202, usually known as the ‘Wedding Cantata’ but, given that its title translates as ‘Dissipate, you troublesome shadows’, it is more likely a celebration of the end of winter — it opens with wintry sounding strings and the commencement of spring is then heralded by the oboe. In nine parts alternating arias with recitatives, the work is a celebration of life itself, and guest soprano Emma Horwood’s nuanced and lyrical voice is perfectly suited to it. Perhaps the most engaging element of the concert was the aria ‘Phoebus eilt mit schnellen Pferden’, in which Horwood combined with cellist Thomas Marlin to create a magical web of rhythmic, interweaving lines.

Graeme Koehne’s To His Servant Bach God Grants A Final Glimpse, is a gracious piece that pays homage to Bach by adapting some of his characteristic devices, for example the walking rhythms often found in Bach’s music which suggest, in the context of this concert, the inevitability of fate and the cycles of life and death and the seasons. Originally written for cello, Koehne’s work has variously been adapted for string quartet, guitar ensemble, organ and orchestra and it proved here to work wonderfully for a Baroque ensemble.

According to scholar Dr Graham Strahle in his informative essay for the concert program, the young Johann Sebastian travelled to Lübeck (400 km, and on foot) to study with the aging master Dieterich Buxtehude. Buxtehude’s Cantata Klaglied Muß der Tod den auch entbinden, Bux WV76 of 1674 (written prior to Bach’s birth), was produced for the composer’s father’s funeral. It was evidently scored for a countertenor, but in this rendition, and accompanied by strings and organ, Emma Horwood’s soprano voice suited it well, and she fully conveyed the intense emotions expressed in Buxtehude’s text. Sometimes known as ‘With peace and joy’, this cantata is a grief-filled lament by a bereaved son consoling himself with the idea of death as a transition to eternal life and wishing his esteemed father well in that afterlife.

The final work of the evening was a sparkling rendition of Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins in D Major, BWV 1043, written in Leipzig in 1730, a defining Bach work of energy and vitality, with violinists Slattery and Ben Dollman engaging in a dynamic interplay with the ensemble. Again, the playing was outstanding, and the bright allegro third movement provided an optimistic and life-affirming finale to the concert, challenging our preoccupation with the difficulties of the present-day.

Adelaide Baroque concerts are an education, and this event drew a parallel between Leipzig as the city of music of Bach’s day, and Adelaide, which has been designated a UNESCO City of Music, to emphasise the vital role music plays in daily life. The real lesson that emerged is that we should appreciate the life that we have while we have it.

​— Chris Reid, Limelight

Elder Conservatorium Evening Concert Series – Baroque Beasts

10 April 2021, Elder Hall

Dramatic, funny, and full of surprises.

Baroque Beasts And Battles could almost be the latest in the Harry Potter franchise; dramatic, funny, and full of surprises.

This was the final concert of the Adelaide Baroque Academy 2021. What an absolute joy from start to finish. The tutors and participants filled the stage of Elder Hall. Jointly led by Rachael Beesley and Ben Dollman, with ‘cellist, Daniel Yeadon, violone player, Rob Nairn, and harpsichordist, Neal Peres da Costa as continuo, they brought the Academy to a rousing climax.

In 1605, and with the second volume coming in 1615, Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (1547-1616) let loose on the world one of the most engaging literary heroes, Don Quixote de la Mancha, and his faithful sidekick, Sancho Panza. We have the adjective ‘quixotic’, the phrase ‘to tilt at windmills’, and The Man of La Mancha. Telemann (1681-1767) was inspired to write a Burlesque de Quixote in 8 movements. He tells, in music for a string orchestra, the highlights of the books, including the attack on the windmills. From the first notes of the overture, the confident ensemble of tutors and students swept into the story, and in the movements about Quixote’s steed, Rosinante, and Sancho’s ass, the players bounced up and down as if on horseback, Gangnam style being a little difficult if you’re playing the violin.

There was musical pictorialism in Schmelzer’s (1623-1680) Die Musikalische Fechtschule, about a fencing school. Let me break the first rule of fencing school, and talk about it. It was a skilfully written and executed piece, a reminder that so much music of the period is still unrecognized.

Their playing of the Corelli (1653-1713) Concerto Grosso in D major, Opus 6, Number 4, was sumptuous in timbre from start to finish, itself enough to render the concert memorable. But wait, there was more.

There is a maxim from 1930’s crime fiction that, if someone produces a gun, it has to be fired. If a bunch of young violinists from Marryattville High School arrive and take up one of the front rows, they will have to play. They scrambled onto the stage to join the others for La Battalia, by Biber (1664-1704).

The opening sonata is enlivened by the ensemble stamping their feet in rhythm. Drunken peasants sing their favourite songs in a discordant row in the second movement, and we follow through to the battle and the sad aftermath. At one point, Rob Nairn follows Biber’s instruction to imitate the snare drum on his double bass, against Rachael Beesly’s imitation of a fife. The company launch into what is a true battle royal, percussive and aggressive, then suddenly the first desk ‘celli turned their backs on the audience, threatening their comrades with fiercely pointed bows. The sad lament for the fallen, ends the piece, and signalled the end of the amazing concert, so full of energy and emotion.

There were two previous concerts, one of which I attended live, and one I picked up off the Elder Conservatorium website.

The first, Baroque Music Today, featured the tutors, in a program that featured the two titans, Bach (1685-1750), and Handel (1685-1759), and a lesser-known, but intriguing, French composer J. B. Boismortier (1689-1755). His Trio Sonata in A minor, Opus 37, number 5, was prefaced by bassoonist Simon Rickard reading a short verse that was rather scathing of the prolific composing schedule that Boismortier followed. The laugh, however, was on the scoffers. Boismortier wrote for highly capable amateur musicians. He also had a royal patent to engrave music. He wrote it, he printed it, he sold it, and he made a very tidy fortune.

Is it blasphemy for me to say that I preferred the Handel to the Bach? The Orchestral Suite No.2 in B minor, BWV 1067, was delivered gracefully, with the ensemble supporting the avian warblings of baroque flautist, Melissa Farrow. It finished with the well-known and witty badinerie, but I would have traded it for another Handel Concerto Grosso to balance the F major, Opus 6, Number 2, that brought the concert to a close.

The Friday lunchtime concert from the Elder Hall was the one that I revisited via the Elder Conservatorium website, Stylus Phantasticus. This gave the tutors a chance to explore a varied repertoire, Bach, of course, and Telemann, the almost unknown Cima, and some Biber. I managed to track down the live stream, but couldn’t find it a second time. Good luck.

​— Ewart Shaw,  BWW Review

The Art of Musick

13 March 2021, Adelaide Town Hall

We know that Henry Purcell was regarded as the British Orpheus, because his widow Frances Purcell prefaced a collection of his songs with the title Orpheus Britannicus. Those who were in the Town Hall last Saturday night will now know much more about Purcell and his era through the excellently selected readings from his time, including the diary of his widow, selected by Graham Strahle, himself a musician, musicologist and writer. These excerpts, read with great elegance and expression by Anna Steen served to highlight Purcell’s music played by some of Adelaide’s brightest and best Baroque musicians, together with interstate musicians who complemented the ensemble. These included the counter tenor, Max Reibl, tenor Timothy Reynolds, Simon Martyn-Ellis theorbo and baroque guitar and Laura Vaughan, Viola da Gamba.

Frances Purcell had commended her husband’s music to ‘the Present or the Future Age’. In this concert her wish was fulfilled, as while the musicians played what could only be a small part of Purcell’s output, their selection showed his skill, musicianship, and mastery of harmony and melody. In his vocal music, Purcell could range from the sublime O Solitude, my sweetest choice in which the language is set with sensitivity and finesse to the cheerful Twas a furlong of Edinboro Town. In his instrumental music, Purcell showed his mastery, exploiting a range orchestral colour and musical styles.

Purcell lived in a London far removed in time from our world – a world that survived plague and the Great Fire of London, described so graphically in the diary of Samuel Pepys. A world, then, not necessarily so different from our own. Nor do we differ from those of Purcell’s time, in our love for and enjoyment of music played by such a group of excellent musicians.

Maybe the Adelaide Baroque will represent other musicians through text as well as music, allowing their audience a heightened appreciation of the music seen in its historical context and through the eyes of contemporaries. Just a thought!

​— Emily Sutherland

The Art of Musick

13 March 2021, Adelaide Town Hall

Henry Purcell (1659-1695) was the greatest English composer until the arrival of Sir Edward Elgar. There those who maintain that he has still not been bettered or outshone. The Adelaide Baroque Orchestra is a relatively new ensemble in the city. With one reservation, which I’ll get to, their decision to celebrate Purcell in the Town Hall with The Art of Musick concert was a wonderful thought. To the music, were added readings from the letters and diaries of the period, those of Purcell’s wife, Frances, and the indefatigable, Mr Samuel Pepys, delivered by Anna Steen.

Ben Dollman is unmatched in this repertoire and led his musicians with grace, and some neat footwork. The major part of the instrumental music was drawn from Purcell’s extensive catalogue of music for the theatre, overtures, entr’actes, and dances.

Two male voices were added to provide some of his best-known songs and a performance of the Ode on the Death of Mr. Henry Purcell, by his teacher, friend, predecessor, and successor as organist at Westminster Abbey, John Blow (1649-1708).

When Adelaide Baroque announced Timothy Reynolds as a high tenor I expected a light French style haut contre, which would balance well with Max Riebl’s countertenor. His voice is an attractive full-throated tenor shown to its best in a song like ‘Twas Within a Furlong of Edinboro Town, a courtship song from the comedy, The Mock Marriage. but in the Ode, balance between the two soloists was at times hard to achieve. Blow’s tribute, words by Poet Laureate, John Dryden (1631-1700), is an artful panegyric, with extensive demands on the soloists. It’s in F major and the soloists start down on the D in the bass clef, whichever pitch, baroque, or contemporary you choose. They then sail up two octaves. For the performance, more than half the orchestra picked up their instruments and left the stage, leaving behind a continuo group, with two recorder players: Jayne Varnish and Lynton Rivers. Max Riebl’s singing of the solo at the heart of the piece was beautifully projected and articulated.

The entire ensemble reappeared for an encore. The joyful Chaconne from the Fairy Queen, a Restoration re-imagining of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, was a perfect end for the concert. Purcell wrote lots of joyful songs and dances, and some naughty canons or rounds. Let’s hope the orchestra schedules lots of those in future concerts.

The Orchestra was only able to afford the Town Hall because it received a significant grant from the community fund. Quite simply, the orchestra should be regarded as a great asset to the city, and be granted at least one annual opportunity to take to the stage of the Town Hall, either during the Festival and Fringe, or on St Cecilia’s Day, in November. There’s also the excellent acoustic of the Elder Hall at the University of Adelaide. Bring the world-renowned Adelaide Chamber Singers, and schedule two of his church anthems, a couple of suites of theatre music, and at least one of the birthday odes. I’d buy tickets, and bring my friends.

Recalling the concert, I was reminded of something I read. On his first visit to London, Handel attended a concert of what they called ‘Ancient Musick’. On hearing Purcell for the first time he is said to have remarked, “If this man had lived, no-one would be listening to me”. By a special Act of Parliament, Handel was granted citizenship, leaving one aristocratic wag to comment that God had made Handel a genius, but Parliament has made him an Englishman.

​— Ewart Shaw, BWW Review



Cathedral Bach

19 October 2019, St Peter’s Cathedral

Bach concert explodes with the sound of OzAsia fireworks.

The Adelaide Chamber Singers soldiered on through Elder Park fireworks, their lovely sound and beautifully shaped phrases reverberating around St Peter’s Cathedral.

This excellent concert of Bach had fireworks – literally. In the midst of Bach’s very moving motet, Jesu, meine Freude, sung exquisitely by the Adelaide Chamber Singers, explosive eruptions began in nearby Elder Park to mark the end of OzAsia Festival’s Moon Lantern Parade. It might have been merely distracting, or faintly humorous, but the coincidence of the words about peace in the midst of angry enemies suggested a scenario more like Dresden on February 13, 1945.The Chamber Singers soldiered on, their lovely sound and beautifully shaped phrases reverberating around the cathedral.

Two of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos were given sparkling performances. No.5 has a demanding solo role for the harpsichord expertly played by Katrina Brown, although some of the detail was lost by the time the sound reached the back of the cathedral. The delightful No.4 had three admirable soloists – Simone Slattery (violin), Lynton Rivers and Jayne Varnish (recorders).

The highlight of the evening was the cantata Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen. The voice soloist was Bonnie de la Hunty, a young singer of great promise with a voice of notable purity and flexibility. Richard Fomison was superb on the baroque trumpet, a difficult instrument which he plays very skilfully.

Adelaide Baroque Orchestra is going from strength to strength, filling an important gap in Adelaide’s musical life, and long may it continue.

​— Stephen Wittington

Revelling in the Pleasure

13 January 2019, Dunstan Playhouse

The stark interior of the Dunstan Playhouse is a far cry from the gilded halls of Versailles

But music can transport you to other times and places – if you close your eyes – and that’s exactly what this program of music from the French Baroque played by the Adelaide Baroque Orchestra, succeeded in doing.

Under the very capable direction on Ben Dollman, this ambitious enterprise appears to be flourishing.

There are evidently enough good players around Adelaide to create an orchestra which in a relatively short time has achieved a commendable standard of performance.

The program began with Lully – music for Moliere’s Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme – with the opening gesture coming from the old-fashioned conductor’s staff with which Lully famously and possibly apocryphally banged his foot with ensuing blood poisoning, and death. It’s delightful music with the delicate tones of flutes, recorders, gut-stringed violins and cellos counter pointed by the rather raucous oboes and bassoon.

Somewhat more quirky were two suites by Jean-Fery Rebel, whose surname proclaims his disdain of convention, vividly illustrated by his evocation of chaos in Les Elements.

A musical of giant of the age, Jean-Philippe Rameau provided the conclusion to the program with music from his opera Hippolyte and Aricie.

The Adelaide Baroque Orchestra admirably captured the spirit of the music as they revelled in the pleasure – le plaisir – of playing this lovely music that is so perfectly conceived for their instruments.

​— Stephen Whittington, The Advertiser



Beasts and Battles

24 November 2018, UKARIA Cultural Centre

Beasts and Battles was the evocative title of an early music fest featuring the superb Adelaide Baroque Orchestra – a slightly expanded version of our wonderful local ensemble – and countertenor Max Riebl.

The battles were mainly orchestral. The splendid and highly entertaining Battalgia a 9 by Heinrich Biber – including the preparations for war, the conflict, and the aftermath – were given new life in music.

The gathering of the motley groups of soldiers, all singing their own songs, was a discordant mishmash, and how refreshing it is to be obliged to laugh out loud during a ‘serious’ concert.

A battle of a different sort in Telemann’s Burlesque de Quichotte, a charming and gently humorous recounting of Don Quixote’s ill-fated pursuits, was another vivid depiction.

The beasts related particularly to the monsters in Handel’s opera Orlando, specifically the aria Fiammi combattere (Go bid me fight monsters and beasts), sung in the most spectacular style by Max Riebl.

What agility he brought to the rapid-fire runs, made even more exciting with spectacular ornamentation on the repeat. He was duly accorded a rock-star ovation.

An extraordinary concert by extraordinary musicians. How lucky we are.

​— Peter Burdon, The Advertiser

Anne Whelan, Harpsichord

14 July 2018, North Adelaide Baptist Church

Renowned harpsichordist Anne Whelan is among the many Adelaideans whose pioneering work since the 1970s has seen Australia in general, and Adelaide in particular, punch well above its weight in early music performance and performance practice. Her recital Across the Channel, featuring works by English and French composers in and around the 17th century, was at once a masterclass, an illustrated lecture, and a sheer delight.

Some of the music is well enough known, like the celebrated Purcell Trumpet Tune, but few know that it was originally written for the keyboard. Likewise the 1648 Chaconne by Louis Couperin, often enough played with the utmost splendour on a vast pipe organ. Its original version, subtle by comparison, is no less grand.

It was in the byways of the repertoire that much interest was to be found. Martin Peerson, for instance, apparently widely published in his time, of whose works just four remain. Or some of the melancholy tombeaux, commemorating the death of noted people.

The challenge to any harpsichordist is to make this music really sing using an instrument that is of its very nature devoid of expression: the string is plucked, and that’s that. In this, with a masterly technique and a deep affinity with the compositions and the composers, Whelan succeeded admirably.

— Peter Burdon

Vivaldi – Adelaide Baroque Orchestra

19 May 2018, Elder Hall

Antonio Lucio Vivaldi as you’ve never heard him before was the promise and, while I’ve heard a lot of Vivaldi performed on authentic instruments with regard to the performing practices of his day, I hadn’t heard him played by a local ensemble of players versed in Baroque performance, to this standard, and I certainly hope to hear the Adelaide Baroque Orchestra again, and regularly.

Adelaide is a UNESCO city of music and home to one of the world’s most influential arts festivals and as I sat in the Elder Hall, I thought “yes, we should have a baroque orchestra, and this is an impressive beginning”.

There are the expected strings, probably with some strung with gut, a violone, elder brother to the ‘cello, and some properly ligneous woodwind, and a harpsichord. The sound from the stage is softer than it would be from an ensemble of contemporary instruments, but engaging, and drawing the listener in by the ears.

It’s frequently alleged that Vivaldi wrote not four hundred concerti but the same concerto four hundred times. Certainly, his style is instantly recognizable, and the three-movement form, frequently allegro/largo/allegro, forming an inescapable template, within those constraints he explores rhythms, melodies, and instrumental textures, rendering each work individual and enjoyable.

There were seven concerti on the program, and the sinfonia to his opera L’Olympiade, also in the traditional three-part model. The majority of the works featured oboes, recorders, and violins in the principal roles. It turns out that oboe playing was a core skill taught at the Ospedale della Pieta, where Vivaldi was master of music, and the demands of providing fresh material for the orphan girls gave him the opportunity to explore sonorities and instrumental combinations.

The orchestra was led by Italian master, Davide Monti, whose baroque performance credentials are impeccable. The programme makes note that he likes to speak with his violin, a Guadagnini dated 1766, and he’s particularly elegant in his communications, pacing and pouncing across the stage, encouraging his players. They have been drawn from Adelaide’s own pool of baroque enthusiasts, with others from across the country, and their CVs in the programme is a rollcall of Baroque ensemble playing.

The playing from everyone was committed and enjoyable. Two of the concerti featured the full line up, one in D minor and one in G minor, written for the court orchestra in Dresden. Others explored various combinations of solo instruments against the full strings or the basso continuo.

It was great to hear Linton Rivers, one of the stalwarts of Adelaide baroque, playing the recorder. His commitment to the music of the period, and the instrument deserves more recognition. Elsewhere, Monti directed a splendid performance of the most well known (only well known?) item in the program, the Violin Concerto no.4 in F minor (1721) RV 297 L’inverno, Winter from the Four Seasons. He prefaced each movement with the words of the original poem in Italian but did the real communication, as indeed throughout, via his violin. The G minor Concerto, for ‘cello, strings, and basso continuo, showcased Anthony Albrecht, who recently took his instrument across Australia in a lengthy concert tour. His impeccable playing was a delight and the slow movement was especially impressive, with his line spinning out against the slightly spooky accompaniment.

The Four Seasons, four of the twelve concerti in Il Cimento dell’Armonia e dell Inventione, were probably the first of his concerti to be known to the general public, and most probably through the recording by I Musici. It was delightful to hear it in the context of Vivaldi’s oeuvre.

There was one eccentric component to the entertainment. Charles Southwood, a former ABC Classic FM presenter, prefaced each work with a brief quote, either from Vivaldi’s biography, his birth evidently triggered an earthquake, or from Robert Dessaix’s Night Letters. Strange, but there it was.

There are lots more Vivaldi concerti to listen for, and his vocal music contains more joys than the famous Gloria, performed in Elder Hall later that day, and then there are the operas to look forward to.

For over forty years, Adelaide Baroque has presented music of the period with small groups and has now taken the very audacious step of establishing an orchestral ensemble. It is an ambition that deserves support. Check out their website for more details, especially for their Baroque exploration series in the Tynte Street Baptist Church throughout the year.

​— Ewart Shaw,

Vivaldi & Venice

19 May 2018, Elder Hall

‘ In the Teatro San Angelo, Vivaldi played a free fantasy which astounded me. He put his fingers but a hair’s breadth from the bridge, on all four strings at such speed. His contemporaries called him the ‘Red Priest.’ If Davide Monti had had red hair, I might have thought I was seeing Vivaldi!

Monti, as guest director, led the newly formed Adelaide Baroque Orchestra in a whirlwind of Vivaldi’s music. Pauses for breath were provided by readings from historic sources and from Robert Desaix’s book, Night Letters read authoritatively by Charles Southwood. It was very well curated, the readings set the scene and sometimes the music crept in and sometimes it exploded. The intensity and contrasts kept one on the edge of the seat; Monti’s total immersion in and command of the music unified the whole ensemble. They felt the pauses together and attacked the openings as one.

There was variety in the program; even though Vivaldi is always recognisable he is inventive enough to surprise the listener. The concertos for different combinations changed the sonorities and brought players into the spotlight. The Violin Concerto Winter highlighted Davide’s natural improvisation talents; he and his violin are one. The background colour of the ensemble was brittle and clear like ice while Davide fluttered and danced above them.

Visiting cellist Anthony Albrecht made the virtuosic acrobatics of the G minor Cello Concerto sound effortless! His amazing bowing shaped the phrases and flew around the cello. The cunning accompaniments were sometimes only upper strings or just lower strings leaving the cello in the spotlight.

Even the bassoonist, Jackie Newcomb had her spectacular moments! The Concerto for Recorder, Oboe, Violin and Bassoon was demanding and showy for all instruments and was executed with drive and enthusiasm.

The Concerto ‘per l’Orchestra di Dresda’ involving two oboes, two recorders and two solo violins had blocks of colour as the instruments alternated that sounded like playing on three keyboards of an organ. The oboists Jane Downer and Doug Patterson performed on their simple Baroque oboes with such a mellow sound. Jayne Varnish and Lynton Rivers played as one with the melting tone of their recorders. The two violins, Davide Monti and Simone Slattery achieved a perfect virtuosic duet despite being at opposite ends of the platform.

As in all the Concertos, the accompanying instruments were balanced, sensitive and the continuo parts inventive and grounding. The violone, played by Robert Nairne gave that sonorous depth so important to Baroque music and partnered the cello in some nifty passages! The Italian harpsichord had a light,delicate sound that added a distinctive timbre especially to the strings. Either Anne Whelan or Katerina Brown were always playing! As were all the continuo players! The tutti players were synchronised, always aware and full of energy supporting the soloists. The whole concert given by the Adelaide Baroque Orchestra was a delight and rapturously received by the audience. Look out for their next appearance on November 24.

— Gabrielle Scherrer, 5MBS

Cafe Zimmermann

17 March 2018, Burnside Town Hall Ballroom

This yearly event is always well attended and appeals to variety of music (and food!) lovers. The casual atmosphere, sitting around tables with a glass of wine or cup of coffee intends to emulate J.S.Bach’s Friday evening gatherings in the Leipzig café, where players and listeners were involved in new compositions and in discussions. We enjoyed the wonderful music and maybe next year the musicians could mingle and engage in conversation with the audience, too.

The Adelaide Baroque Orchestra is a relatively new addition to the Adelaide Ensembles and it was gratifying to see and hear so much local talent engaging with each other. During the concert, different formations meant each player was a soloist and yet they merged very well with each other as a group.

The guest singer, Sally-Anne Russell, embodied her songs, illustrating the words with dramatic actions that brought the music to life. Zelenka’s expressive Italian arias were full of passion and Handel’s aria “Dopo Note” also showed the Italian style of the era. The final aria by Handel “Verdi Prati” was beautifully performed, with deep feeling and yet reserve.

The program was a good mix of colour. The Telemann pieces used the sonorous sound of the full orchestra, plus two recorder players, Jayne Varnish and Lynton Rivers, who played a lovely solo Musette. The two cellists, Anton Baba and Kate Morgan shone in the virtuoso Vivaldi Concerto for two cellos and the leader of the orchestra, Ben Dollman, gave a fluent, expressive performance of Bach’s Violin Concerto in A minor.

The Adelaide Baroque Orchestra is trying to establish a secure footing in the Adelaide music scene and their vision is to find sponsorship in the corporate world. Their confident, informed performances could be an asset to a culturally-minded organisation and the audience was asked to help them make contacts. So spread the word and if you didn’t hear the concert this year, look out for it next year!

— Gabrielle Scherrer, 5MBS



Celebrating 40 Years

27 November 2017, UKARIA Cultural Centre

Adelaide Baroque has been spreading good musical taste around for the past 40 years. But not a word of self-congratulation was spoken from stage during their double concert bill at UKARIA to celebrate. Refreshingly they let their music do all the talking. That’s taste.

Two 75-minute sessions with a half-hour between provided a real musical feast. The first all German, the second all French, there was never a dull moment as things kept rolling along with shortish numbers performed by constantly varying ensembles drawn from a 10 strong musical cast. In addition they had invited back older founding members to play alongside current and recent ones and the resulting mix of performing styles was fascinating to watch and hear.

Among the younger artists, tenor Robert Macfarlane and violinist Simone Slattery proved standout hits in all they played. Macfarlane’s tour de force, three recitatives and airs from Rameau’s cantata L’Impatience, not only overwhelmed with their brilliance but also demanded total audience attention through almost mesmeric characterisation. You didn’t need to speak French to be in the know.

Slattery too commands the stage and many moments from Muffat’s Armonico Tributo to Rebel’s Tombeau de Monsieur de Lully remain memorable for her warmth, energy and sheer brio.

Founding luminaries made their mark too. Among them Lynton Rivers proved no slouch and very persuasive in Couperin’s oh-so- French Neuvième Concert and Anne Whelan’s wonderfully poised Prélude from D’Anglebert’s Deuxième Suite was a gem.

— Rodney Smith, The Advertiser

Rarities a Hallmark of Adelaide Baroque’s Repertoire

24 April 2017, UKARIA Cultural Centre

Back in the 1970s and ’80s, Adelaide was Australia’s epicentre of early music research and performance, the latter due in no small part to the outstanding ensemble Adelaide Baroque. Now in its 40th year, that proud tradition continues unabated.

​A hallmark of their programming over the years has been to include rarities alongside better known fare and the concert at Ukaria was no exception, with Bach and Telemann sharing the bill with Couperin and Lully and the splendidly-named D’Anglebert. Soprano and tenor duo Kate and Robert McFarlane were very welcome in the program. Both have spent the past few years honing their craft in Europe, and have developed a sophisticated affinity with baroque performance practice, as they amply demonstrated in Telemann’s Epiphany cantata Heir ist mein Herz, geliebster Jesu and an extract from Lully’s opera Armide. The instrumentalists were uniformly excellent.

It was a special delight to hear Anne Whelan at the harpsichord, especially in her solo accounts of a small Couperin set and D’Anglebert’s immensely demanding music, not for the notes, for few are written, but because the success of the piece is entirely down to the performer’s skillful interpretation. The packed house all clearly wished that the closing instrumental section, variations on a simple descending bass, would never end. But it did, and was greeted with thunderous applause.

— Peter Burdon, The Advertiser