A Cunning Blog

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Phillippe Jaroussky / Australian Brandenburg Orchestra
City Recital Hall
Reviewed by Harriet Cunningham

****1/2* 4.5 stars

Imagine a time when artists achieve the kind of celebrity status enjoyed by today’s sportsmen and women; where opera is as newsworthy and as broadly appealing as, say, Rugby League. A time like London in the 1700s, when Farinelli and Carestini, the two great castrati, did battle on the concert stage, making men preen and women swoon.

With their first concert for 2013, the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra endeavour to make this a reality. Two highly-trained, elite athletes perform amazing feats of agility, speed and endurance. That their performances are also heartbreakingly beautiful is a juicy bonus.

The main attraction is French countertenor Philippe Jaroussky, now firmly established as one of the world’s leading countertenors. His reputation is confirmed from the moment he opens his mouth. In a lengthy program that showcases his impressive stamina as well as his craft, Jaroussky covers the repertoire of both stars: for Carestini, the oratorios of Handel, and for Farinelli, nothing but Porpora, whose fame as a composer depended almost entirely on his virtuosic pupil.

Both are spectacular. Jaroussky’s voice is not huge, but he uses it with finely-honed technique combined with laser-guided intonation and kaleidoscopic tone colour. One of the highlights is Porpora’s “Alto giove” from his opera Polifermo. Jaroussky launches into the opening held note with the clear, unsupported voice of what sounds like a young girl, which transforms gradually into a full bodied, heroic sound, burnished with a discreet vibrato. A world in one note.

In most arenas Shaun Lee-Chen, a young Australian baroque violinist making his solo debut with the Orchestra, would win gold every time, but Jaroussky is a tough act to follow. Lee-Chen’s performance of Locatelli’s fiendish Violin Concerto No. 3 is not without flaws, but his seductive tone and fabulous flights of virtuosity make up for initial wobbles. The musicians of the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra are sensitive accompanists, but destined to be outshone by the stars.

This concert is repeated on March 15, 20, 22 and 23 at 7pm and March 25 at 5pm. 



Great Hall, SCEGGS Darlinghurst, September 6

Published Sydney Morning Herald, September 2009

Ensembles come and go in the urban jungle of new music, but vocal group Halcyon has proved itself a stayer. On Saturday night, Halcyon founders Alison Morgan and Jenny Duck-Chong demonstrated how with a fond and fabulous tenth birthday concert.

How to number one: be adventurous. Mounting a performance of George Crumb’s Ancient Voices of Children, complete with mandolin, harp, percussion and a singer with her head in a grand piano, at your very first concert could be considered foolhardy. But they did it then, and they did it again on Saturday night, with the kind of playful flair and well-turned virtuosity which keeps experimentation fun and makes audiences want more.

How to number two: have good friends. While just two people remain at the heart of Halcyon, they have surrounded themselves with an amazing array of artists – composers and performers —  over the last decade. The first half of the concert was a tantalizing smorgasbord of voices from English composer Kerry Andrew’s loopy luna-cy to Edison Denisov’s mysterious Archipel des Songes, performed by fine players from every corner of Sydney’s music scene.

How to number three: be good. Obvious, but essential. And for this most important point Halcyon do not disappoint. Luciano Berio’s Folk Songs, for example, may sound deceptively simple – after all, they’re just folks songs, aren’t they? – until you realize they were written for the legendary Cathy Berberian, accompanied a highly artful orchestration. So when Jenny Duck-Chong and her classy band take up the challenge and makes these by turns zany and melancholy songs their own, it is an impressive and hugely enjoyable achievement.

Other standout performances: Jane Sheldon’s scarily beautiful top note at the climax of Katy Abbott’s Night Thoughts’; Alison Morgan’s exhilarating and fearless vocalizing in an extract from Damien Ricketson’s Seven Relics; Jenny Duck-Chong’s rolling eyes and fruity expression in Kerry Andrew’s cherry; and the ensemble’s performance of ‘Gacela of the dead child’, which nearly made me weep.

Can it really be ten years? The time has flown by. Happy Birthday, Halcyon!

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