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Review: Thomas Tallis’ England at City Recital Hall

Diana Carroll

The Australian Brandenburg Orchestra launches its 2018 season with a delightful program of fine English music.
Review: Thomas Tallis’ England at City Recital Hall

Image: Australian Brandenburg Orchestra presents Thomas Tallis' England. Photo (c) Liz Ham.

It is always a joy to see and hear the Brandenburg and this week they were at their most engaging. 

Thomas Tallis’ England is a carefully curated journey through 350 years of fine English music.  Each of the other six composers featured in the program were somehow influenced by the remarkable work of the 16th Century composer Thomas Tallis. This musical thread draws the pieces together into a wonderfully simpatico program. As always, Artistic Director and Conductor Paul Dyer opened proceeding with an enthusiastic introduction that made the audience feel they were amongst friends.


The program opened with Orlando Gibbons’ Prelude in G Major. Heidi Jones highlighted its wonderfully sacred strains with some beautiful playing at the chamber organ. There was a brief diversion into the beautiful Ave Verum Corpus by William Byrd, and then back to a soulful collection of songs from Gibbons. The Brandenburg Choir was impressive throughout but were exceptionally good in Gibbons’ passionate Hosanna to the Son of David.

Two pieces from Henry Purcell followed, with the Cold Song from King Arthur introducing the soloist, countertenor Max Riebl. Purcell is often regarded as England’s greatest composer and these two pieces show his depth of passion and expression. It was marvellous to see Dyer simultaneously conducting and playing the harpsichord, leaping to his feet and then slapping the sides of the instrument for dramatic impact. 

George Frederic Handel came next with two marvellous pieces, including one from Orlando featuring Reibl’s vocals.  Although not born a Brit, Handel did eventually become a citizen and was a favourite of Queen Anne.  He is buried in Westminster Abbey with the great and good.

After interval, the players were seated for Locke’s Curtain Tune from The Tempest.  The choir again took centre stage for some moving songs from Thomas Tallis himself.  And then this remarkable program closed with the Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis written by Ralph Vaughan Williams, the favourite composer of Prince Charles. Paul Dyer announced that these are the first performances of the Fantasia, adding another musical feather to the Brandenburg cap.

This was delightful concert. It was intelligently curated, played to the usual flawless standards of the Brandenburg, and sung beautifully by the Choir.  It was also thoughtfully presented, with the players variously standing and sitting and careful choreography allowing the singers to move fluidly around the stage. The momentary confusion as the orchestra regrouped and located a missing music stand or lost score simply added to the feeling that this was a salon performance amongst friends.    

Dyer even utilised the balcony above the stage to great effect for the final piece, despite the obvious difficulty of climbing up there with a large instrument! Countertenor Max Riebl was warmly received but I did feel he lacked a little depth and emotionality in this particular performance.  He has a satisfyingly clear tone and great vocal ability, I was just looking for a little more drama and expression.  There was also real affection from the audience for Concertmaster Shaun Lee-Chen. Throughout the concert, the Recital Hall stage was enhanced by the clever use of lighting, adding to the theatrical experience and creating lovely warm atmospherics.  The concert ended with the rapturous applause it so richly deserved and even a few standing ovations.

Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Australian Brandenburg Orchestra
Brandenburg Choir
Paul Dyer AO Artistic Director & Conductor
Max Riebl Countertenor
Sydney Recital Hall to Saturday March 3, two performances Feb 24 & 25 Melbourne Recital Centre

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Dr Diana Carroll is a writer, speaker, and reviewer based in Sydney. Her work has been published in newspapers and magazines including the SMH, the Oz, Woman's Day, and B&T. Writing about the arts is one of her great passions.