Musica Viva combined forces with the multi-talented Camerata, Queensland’s Chamber Orchestra, in a program of late 17th and early 18th baroque music that was focused around the legend of the Egyptian Queen, Cleopatra. Offering some well-known pieces, as well as obscure composers who are rarely performed, the concert provided an intriguing mix.
Chosen to open the concert was little-known English composer, Matthew Locke’s Curtain Tune to his opera, The Tempest, based on Shakespeare’s play. This is a slight piece depicting a calm sea before the storm that erupts at the beginning of the opera. Played by just a string quintet and continuo, the sound seemed thin with gentle flurries of activity as the storm ramps up. Its choice was somewhat obscure, even if the music was pleasant.
It was followed by the full Camerata orchestra with the opera seria of German composer Johann Hasse in his Sinfonia from Marc’Antonio e Cleopatra. Both stately and majestic, emulating contemporary composers Bach and Handel, it was the piece that surely should have opened the concert. This was joyous music very well played and delivered by the ensemble. The rushes of adrenalin that fired up the violins were quickly taken up by the darker strings, with playful interchanges, while some softer, delicate passages added depth.
The Italian baroque composer and violinist, Giuseppe Valentini, demonstrated his considerable talents in the Concerto Grosso no 7 in G Major. Strains of Corelli and Vivaldi were certainly in evidence in the work of this often-overlooked composer. Five cleverly contrasting and intense movements offered opportunities for the ensemble to shine. Violins and violas took precedence in the Grave and Fuga movements, with a languorous and poignant Adagio and excitement from the principal cello in the spirited Vivace. Together strings and harpsichord brought a flourish to the final Adagio assai.
Henrich Biber’s Battalia is a curious, almost modern, work in 1 short parts for chamber orchestra. An oddity was the development of bowing techniques that included striking the wood of the bows on the strings. Apart from being composed in the Baroque period, Battalia, a somewhat flippant look at war and elements of soldiering, seemed not to fit the overall theme of the concert. But as a fun-filled, lively work it allowed Camerata to highlight its flexibility and teamwork to good advantage.
Asthe greatest violinist of his day, Johann Pisendel wrote his Violin Concerto in D Major requiring a virtuosic soloist. Not to be daunted, Camerata’s Artistic Director, Brendan Joyce, showed his excellent technique combined with intelligent and thoughtful playing in this work. The opening Vivace movement throws the soloist almost instantly into a long cadenza, with the violin playing off against each of the string front desks, within an overall gentle, rolling theme. The slow Andante movement had some tricky violin passages, managed with aplomb by Joyce. The sprightly Allegro offered energetic and well-crafted phrasing, with Joyce assisted ably by principal violin, Jonny Ng. In all, a mammoth effort by the orchestra and its leader.
Coloratura soprano, Sofia Troncoso, is rapidly making a name for herself in a range of ingenue roles as well as on the concert platform in the baroque and romantic repertoires. She sang two of Cleopatra’s most famous arias from Handel’s Giulio Cesare in Egitto. Piangero la sorte mia mourns the loss of her love, while Da Tempesta welcomes back the ship bearing Caesar after a triumphant battle. Demanding not only an excellent technique but delicate phrasing and breath control, as well as fiendish agility in the higher register, Troncoso was impressive on all counts. Her powerful voice was solid across the range with its rich, creamy timbre and excellent top notes. In particular her pianissimo in Piangerowas beautifully controlled and poignant. She concluded strongly with an aria by Cleopatra of Armenia, Squarciami pure il seno from Vivaldi’s opera Il Tigrane, demonstrating what seemed like effortless stamina in the vocal gymnastics required of this role.
Apart from some quibbles about programming choices, this was a well-received concert of some sublime Baroque music with two excellent soloists supported by a spirited Camerata.