It was immediately obvious that a formidable technique was at the service of musical expressiveness.
Australian Brandenburg Orchestra's Paul Dyer.
For the final leg of their current tour the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra brought the charismatic Dmitry Sinkovsky and his famous 1675 Ruggeri violin into an acoustic that seemed tailor made to showcase the virtuosic talents of both artist and instrument. The Elisabeth Murdoch Hall was the ideal venue for a concert of string concertos by Vivaldi and Corelli and one of Handel’s most affecting arias written for the castrato voice.
Along with a sizeable portion of Melbourne’s string players, devotees of the ABO, violin and voice were keen to hear this versatile artist, who has risen to international prominence in two genres. In some respects he is a reverse image of that other charismatic ABO favourite, Philippe Jaroussky. Whereas Jaroussky is a supremely gifted counter-tenor who also plays the violin, Sinkovsky is a violinist for whom the most demanding virtuosic repertoire appears to present no fears and he is also an accomplished counter-tenor. Although both excel in their primary fields of musical endeavour, it has to be said that Sinkovsky’s foray into Baroque vocal performance is a serious and increasingly important part of his career. Conducting is another.
Taking over the conducting reins from Paul Dyer, Sinkovsky directed an orchestra comprising strings, theorbo/guitar and organ, with the ever-enthusiastic Dyer at the harpsichord generally facing the audience for a change.
If Vivaldi played the violin as compellingly as Sinkovsky, he must have had the inhabitants of the Ospedale in constant paroxysms of delight. Vivaldi was noted for his boundless energy and that was certainly a feature of Sinkovsky’s performance, which seemed to increase in voltage as the evening progressed. From the moment he stepped onto the stage with his fashionable undercut ponytail, he took command. It was immediately obvious that a formidable technique was at the service of musical expressiveness. No matter what was called upon in the way of the virtuosic intricacies from left or right hand, Sinkosky appeared to surmount them with consummate ease. In fact, so great was his mastery of technique that members of the ABO were hard pressed to match him in some of the fastest allegros that I have ever heard.
The three Vivaldi Concertos: C major (RV 177), D minor (RV 246) and D minor (RV 242) not only featured cascades of notes and intricate ornamentation, but some exquisitely beautiful playing. The sweetest silvery sound from the Ruggeri in the slow movements complemented the delights of the outer movements, where huge technical demands seemed to present themselves to Sinkovsky as opportunities for outbursts of joyous virtuosity. Three Vivaldi concertos may appear to indicate a certain sameness in the programming, especially since two of them were in the same key, but there was a great deal of variety within them. The Largo of the first Concerto in D minor just before interval was a foretaste of Sinkovsky the singer. Dramatic recitatives ushered in soft arias with filigrees of decoration and singing phrasing. The dying pianissimo of the ending jumped to an allegro with sufficient fireworks to have the audience burst out cheering after the final flourish.
Sinkovsky was joined by Ben Dollman on Baroque violin and Jamie Hey on Baroque cello for Corelli’s Concerto Grosso Op. 2. Although prominence is given to the first violin for what is essentially a series of dances, Dollman and Hey gave stylish and highly accomplished accounts of their parts. Jamie Hay further proved his credentials as possibly the brightest star of the regular ABO lineup by his truly impressive playing of Vivaldi’s Cello Concerto in A minor (RV 421). Its inclusion made a most welcome addition to the advertised program. In contrast to the exuberant Sinkovsky, Hey presented as a modest, unassuming artist whose excellence could easily be underestimated. As well as great dexterity in the faster movements, his expressive playing of the slow movement with a continuo of cello and theorbo was simply sublime.
Another change to the advertised program was the vocal item, which began the second half of the program. With his hair loose around his shoulders, Sinkovsky transformed himself into an opera singer. Instead of a Vivaldi cantata, he announced that he would sing Handel’s ‘Cara Sposa’, which he wished to dedicate to the victims of the MH-17 air disaster. Beginning with the finest thread of sound he used the acoustic to weave an increasingly heartfelt piece of dramatic beauty. While the faster middle section is far from being a bravura showpiece, it did reveal and an ability to negotiate reasonably florid passages with ease as well as a fairly wide range. Against hushed strings, his ornamentation of the da capo section was tasteful and affecting.
After changing his shirt and putting his hair back up during the cello concerto, Sinkovsky returned to the stage for the final Vivaldi concerto. Again, he made the most of every virtuosic opportunity using heavy ornamentation in the outer movements and producing the most spectacularly beautiful sound in the largo movement. Breathtakingly fine in texture, warm and caressing in timbre, the softest notes played against a background of plucked strings and permeated the hall. The final allegro movement was replete with all the excitement that can be generated by a true virtuoso.
This might not have been a concert entirely to the taste of Baroque purists, but there is no doubting that it was one that excited the audience. Prolonged applause, cheering, stamping and standing ovations brought a series of encores, including several movements from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons performed in an individual, highly colourful style. As Paul Dyer put it after one of the movements from ‘Winter’: ‘That wasn’t just Winter, that was a Siberian winter.’ Sinkovsky even bounded onto the stage for a lovely, gentle encore of Albinoni’s ‘Pianta bella’ with viola obbligato.
In the end it was all a bit of a musical love-in. The rapport between Sinkovsky and Dyer and the ABO as a whole, and between Sinkovsky and the audience and vice versa made for an experience that was animated by the sheer joy of sharing music of virtuosic excellence.
Rating: 4 ½ out of 5 stars
Australian Brandenburg Orchestra: Dmitry Sinkovsky
Dmitry Sinkovsky: guest director, baroque violin, countertenor
Jamie Hey: cello
Melbourne Recital Centre, Southbank
2 - 3 August