In some ways, this recording is quite a departure for the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra. In other ways, it isn’t. Who else but an ensemble specialising in historically-informed performances on period instruments could bring such innate understanding to the Baroque underpinnings of Grieg’s From Holberg’s Time – Suite in the Olden Style and Mendelssohn’s early String Symphony No 3 in E Minor?
As for the ABO’s other novel offering – Paganini’s fiendishly difficult Violin Concerto No 4 – there’s a real lightness, crispness and suppleness required here that makes a HIP technique perfectly suited to Paganini’s OTT showmanship. This is especially the case with the ABO’s guest director and soloist, Netherlands-based violinist Shunske Sato. Concertmaster of both Concerto Köln and the Netherlands Bach Society, Sato is equally at home on modern and historical instruments. He is also clearly equally at home in repertoire as diverse as the three aforementioned works, here recorded live last year by Classic FM at Sydney’s City Recital Hall.
The Grieg is given a delightful freshness, a newly-minted quality, by contrasting a generous use of portamenti with a parsimonious application of vibrato throughout. This lends a luminous clarity both to the lyrical movements such as the Sarabande and the Air and the more rhythmically vital dances like the Gavotte and the final Rigaudon. The Mendelssohn, written when the composer was just 12 years old, is a more academic affair, especially the fugal first movement, but there is a classical grace and poise here too which Sato and the ABO bring out to perfection.
But it’s in the Paganini where Sato and the ABO really let their hair down, the former taking every technical hurdle nonchalantly in his stride, as though he, as Paganini is rumoured to have done, had also made a pact with the devil, the latter relishing the tongue-in-cheek bombast. It’s enormous fun.