What a welcome return to the concert hall this was for audiences, and a classy, stylish way for Musica Viva to take to the stage for the first time since March as part of the organisation’s Reconnect series. As organist and harpsichordist Erin Helyard explained, this was a program focused on the generation of composers that preceded and no doubt influenced masters like Bach and Handel, meaning audiences heard rare gems by those including Schmelzer, Biber, and Bruhns. Many of these pieces were bittersweet, others melancholy, but all suggested a joy that was undoubtedly felt by many in City Recital Hall, pleased to be able to congregate again after such a long time away.

Erin Helyard and David GrecoErin Helyard and David Greco recording for ABC Classic

Helyard was joined by frequent collaborator, baritone David Greco, and a quartet of similarly distinguished musicians – violinists Matthew Greco and Rafael Font, harpist Hannah Lane, and viola da gambist Anton Baba. Helyard opened the concert with an ideally paced, lively performance of Tunder’s Canzona for Organ in G, communicating the piece’s bright optimism while demonstrating his expert manipulation of the instrument’s colours. This was followed by Schmelzer’s Sonata á 3 ‘Pastorale’, an amiable piece of music sweetly played, the violins agile and eloquent against the crunchier textures of the viola da gamba.

Greco’s first contribution came in the form of an exquisitely rendered performance of Buxtehude’s ciaccona aria Quemadmodum desiderat cervus. His bronze, perfectly weighted baritone traversed the long lines with ease, while his crisp diction and vivid attack were complemented by the animated continuo playing. Greco brought a similar command to Bach’s cantata Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin, beautifully and simply performed, his linguistic dexterity coming again to the fore. In Biber’s Nisi Dominus aedificaverit domum, Greco showed off his power and dynamic range, his lowest notes molten and rounded. This was perfectly set off by the vibrant, often explosive playing of violinist and brother Matthew Greco, one of the program’s highlights. The baritone’s performance of De profundis by Bruhns, a pupil of Buxtehude’s, was an ideal showcase for his dramatic instincts as well as technical virtuosity, the musicians revelling in the composer’s lush textural landscape.

Other highlights included a haunting, enveloping account of the Adagio from Handel’s Sinfonia in B Flat, the violins capturing a glistening, regal tone against the earthier, purple tones of the gamba. Finally, Krieger’s Fantasia in C saw Helyard demonstrate not only his considerable technical chops on the harpsichord, but drew from the musician carefully weighted phrasing that imparted real impact. An ideal return to the concert hall.

David Greco and Erin Helyard’s concert at City Recital Hall on 16 November is sold out, however Musica Viva Australia is streaming the concert live here.

Supported by the City of Sydney

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