Royal Albert Hall, London
Monday September 3, 2001
In the Proms bumf - which also, incidentally, manages to get the group's name wrong - the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra is described as 'a bright young Antipodean ensemble', which rather patronisingly gives the impression that they are Sydney's musical equivalent of a gang of socialites from a Nancy Mitford novel. In fact, they were founded by their flamboyant director Paul Dyer in 1990, and they rank among the world's great period bands, performing with such dexterity and enthusiasm that they make many of their European and American counterparts seem staid by comparison. Their Proms debut, at a packed late-night concert, was an event that just seemed to stop the audience in its tracks - and had everyone roaring for more. Inevitably, interest was primarily focused on their work with the great countertenor Andreas Scholl, a collaboration already established on disc, although not, until now, heard live in the UK. Two Vivaldi cantatas, poles apart in mood and style, formed the centre of the concert: the sacred Nisi Dominus and Cessate, Omai Cessate, a stormy, pagan study of rejected passion. Scholl is incomparable in both. Nisi Dominus finds him unleashing a sweet flood of sound and giving the impression of tremendous spiritual centredness, even when the coloratura of Vivaldi's vocal line is exacting in the extreme. In Cessate, Omia Cessate, with Dyer and the ABO tracking his voice with stinging, obsessive pizzicatos, he's explosively violent, plunging into chest tones at moments of extreme emotion. Va Tacito, the hunting aria from Handel's Giulio Cesare formed a pendant to this pair. Scholl sang it with fierce beauty, while the famous horn obbligato - difficult on a valveless period instrument - was played with terrific panache, if a little unsteadily occasionally. Even with Scholl absent from the platform, things were simply electric. Handel's D Major Concerto Grosso glowed with tender warmth while the Second Water Music Suite seemed buoyant, fluid and purged of any trace of solemnity. Best of all was Vivaldi's C Major Recorder Concerto, played by Genevieve Lacey with a combination of sensuality, wit and mind-boggling flamboyance. The whole concert was just bliss, every single stupendous second of it.