Australian Brandenburg Orchestra AD Paul Dyer has a knack for delivering a great guest, and although Dmitry Sinkovsky was to some extent a known quantity having played here in 2014, it was a welcome opportunity for Aussie audiences to reconnect with one of the finest baroque violin virtuosi on the circuit. A smartly chosen programme also pitched big hitters of the period against some intriguing discoveries, hence there was much to hold the attention.
Ever heard of Jacques Aubert (1689-1753)? I hadn’t, but on the basis of the Ciaccona from his Concerto for Four Violins in D he would be well worth artists and recording companies seeking out. A real charmer of a piece – Handelian of melody but with a sprinkling of Lullian rhythmic grace – it received a lively, curtain-opening performance from the orchestra. The pleasure was somewhat alloyed, however, by an insecurity of intonation that bedevilled the ABO violins when required to take the lead in a number of (admittedly very tricky) pieces throughout the evening.
Fortunately matters calmed down as soon as Sinkovsky took the stage. With his Byronic locks needing to be decorously moved to avoid snaring them under his chin rest, he proved a true aristocrat of his instrument, exhibiting a deep understanding of the music, the correct period style and, crucially, the phrasing that ensures these works are brought fully to life.
Many composers of the early 18th century wrote for the great violinist Johann Pisendel, and to judge by the notable works labelled “per Signor Pisendel” that have survived, his name was a touchstone of quality. Telemann’s B Flat Major Concerto was a prime example with its elegant, warm-hearted Largo, a romping three/four Vivace and a frisky finale that showed the influence of Vivaldi. Sinkovsky’s pinpoint intonation, full-blooded tone (by baroque standards) and razor sharp articulation ensured maximum engagement, ditto Leclair’s amiable D Major Concerto. A gifted violinist himself, Leclair’s writing gave Sinkovsky the chance to give us the full Paganini, tossing hair and all. His delicate line thrown over the ticking accompaniment of the Adagio gave special pleasure.
If Leclair represented the heavenly sounds of the French Baroque, with his contemporary Locatelli the coin was flipped to show us the demonic passions of the Italians. A genuine original, Locatelli’s Concerto Grosso subtitled Il Pianto d’Arianna is a remarkable operatic scena for violin. Using vocal techniques like dramatic recitative and arioso the soloist runs the gamut as the abandoned Ariadne contemplates her fate, left to rot on Naxos.
Rocking strings conveyed the dastardly Theseus making his getaway before Sinkovsky spun out his eloquent plaint, his panting phrasing representing the abandoned maiden’s piteous moans. In his element as musician and musical actor, Sinkovsky’s intense pianissimos were especially poignant. Powerful harmonic dissonances led into a bitter mad scene before a final slither into silent despair. You could have heard a pin drop. Equally magical was the rapt Andante in Vivaldi’s E Minor Violin Concerto (Il Favorito) where Sinkovsky’s decorated high-lying solo line and filigree trills thrilled a hushed hall.
Elsewhere in the programme, baroque hornists Darryl Poulsen and Dorée Dixon did sterling work in Vivaldi’s Concerto for Two Horns in F – not much in the way of melody, but much tally-hoing – the soloists doing a great deal to overcome the fundamentally recalcitrant nature of their valveless instruments. Equally enjoyable, on paper, was Locatelli’s Introdutioni Teatrali No 5 in D, a cheerfully dramatic overture of sorts, but again, the ABO violin sound was overly shrill at the top end.
Given the title of the concert, and knowing Sinkovsky as a double threat violist and countertenor, it was perhaps surprising that we waited until the encore stage before he opened his mouth to sing. Handel’s Dove sei, amato bene from Rodelinda was well worth the wait however, sitting perfectly in Sinkovsky’s range and employing some exquisite legato singing. Less successful was Caesar’s Va tacito from Giulio Cesare which seemed to have been unrehearsed and took the singer out of his lower-end comfort zone. Perhaps not the best note to end on, but don’t let that stop you booking to hear a profoundly charismatic musician playing some engaging and original repertoire.
The Australian Brandenburg Orchestra performs Dmitry Sinkovsky: The Singing Violin at City Recital Hall, Sydney, until August 4, at Melbourne Recital Centre August 5 – 6, and at QPAC, Brisbane, August 8.