Enchanting music from the 18th century

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 July, 2012, 12:00am


Mostly Baroque
Hong Kong Sinfonietta
July 14
City Hall Concert Hall

A full-house audience at City Hall had a moment of respite from the heat with a performance of some of the most enchanting music from the 18th century. The refreshing atmosphere was coupled with an unusual programme and engaging presentation that appealed to both seasoned concertgoers and newcomers.

Even before a note was played, guest conductor Geoffrey Lancaster became the focus of attention through remarks on the music to be played. This proved to be essential to appreciate the rarely performed Les Elemens by the French Baroque composer Jean-Fery Rebel. The work, in 10 short movements, surprised many with its fresh tonality, such as the use of dissonance chords at the beginning to depict chaos. Equally innovative was the seating of players, with the strings on the left and woodwinds on the right, leaving the conductor at the harpsichord in the middle.

The arrangement corresponded closely to the dialogues between the two groups, such as piccolos and violins, bassoons and violas, throughout the work. The dance passages, featuring the conductor on tambourin, were exquisite.

The two J.S. Bach works that followed were popular Baroque masterpieces. The Fifth Brandenburg Concerto was performed in its authentic format, with just eight players including guest flute soloist Emma Sholl. With concertmaster James Cuddeford and Lancaster the conductor-harpsichordist, the all-Australian trio had plenty of passages to showcase their expertise, such as the gentle second movement. The quality of the chamber music was excellent.

In the second Orchestral Suite, a larger orchestra provided a fine platform for the solo flute, which was played with finesse and poise. It was great music-making on stage as much as for the audience.

The only non-Baroque work was Mozart's Symphony No 29, but the tone quality, especially the nonvibrato strings, remained essentially Baroque. Except for a few cracks on the horns, the orchestra performed with great flow and reflected the charm of the musical genius. Rapturous applause was rewarded with a replay of the finale, a rare second chance for the horns, with results that brought smiles.