Hong Kong Arts Festival

Belgian troupe put the rock into baroque, making music from Biber to Vivaldi sound vibrant and new – review

Led by Russian violinist and soloist Dmitry Sinkovsky, chamber orchestra tackled a varied programme full of humorous moments with great spirit and energy

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 March, 2018, 5:48pm
UPDATED : Friday, 02 March, 2018, 5:48pm

In a programme of early and late baroque music gems entitled “Sounding Stories”, Russian violinist (and countertenor) Dmitry Sinkovsky and the Belgian B’Rock Orchestra showed just how new and vibrant these old works can sound.

The evening performance opened with Austrian composer Johann Joseph Fux’s French overture and suite-style Ouverture in D minor, N4. Three of the seven movements, Rossignol, Caille and Coucou, depict birds – the nightingale, quail and cuckoo – and Sinkovsky and his troupe portrayed them with great spirit.

The sparkling dotted rhythms in the Ouverture, the wonderfully hushed pianissimo return of the Menuet following the Passepied (Trio) and the dreamy Air were all notable highlights. The Gigue, however, lacked precision in attack.

A battle rages in Heinrich Biber’s Batallia a 10 in D major, C61 for three violins, four violas, two violone and continuo, but Sinkovsky and his players were completely in sync as they showed the remarkable inventiveness of this 1673 work, and revelled in its wit, chromaticism and “modern” instrumental effects.

Its title loosely translated as “A disorderly society of all sorts of humour”, the second movement comprises eight songs in different keys, all starting at different times in a wonderful display of complete cacophony. The tonal relief provided by the Presto and Mars interludes was highly effective, while Die Schlacht, depicting a wild battle, was played with spirited enthusiasm by B’Rock with wonderful chromaticism in the “Lament of the wounded soldiers”.

Antonio Vivaldi’s Concerto in F major, RV569, with its brilliant use of horns in the outer movements, is an outstanding example of theatrical composition. The opening Allegro felt unsettled at first but Sinkovsky soon took control and his ever energetic direction and solo playing was commendable. The serenity in the second movement, Grave, was beautifully captured and, with the excellent natural horns fluttering along merrily, joviality prevailed in the final Allegro.

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Humour continued after the intermission in Georg Philipp Telemann’s Concerto in A major, subtitled “The Frogs”. Alternating open strings with stopped notes, the soloist introduces the frog’s note (A) and, by using additional pressure, almost squeezing out the sound, Sinkovsky skilfully added to the work’s comic effect.

“The Sweetness and Bitterness of the Night” in Fux’s Concerto “Le dolcezze, e l’amerezze della notte” in D major, E112, depicting a nightwatchman’s duty in the first movement, was beautifully played by B’Rock’s oboes. The tutti violins also shone in the Fantasie notturne and the inevitable Ronfatore (Snore) that followed.

Sinkovsky struggled somewhat with gut string intonation in the first movement Allegro of Vivaldi’s Concerto “Per la solennita di San Lorenzo” (For the feast of Saint Lawrence) in D major, but soon made amends with his inspired Grave slow movement and technical wizardry in the final Allegro’s demanding cadenza.

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An appreciative audience coaxed four encores from Sinkovsky, two arias showing his fine countertenor voice before he switched back to the violin and played a movement from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons for good measure.

B’Rock Orchestra Sounding Stories, Dmitry Sinkovsky (artistic leader & solo violin)

Hong Kong Arts Festival, March 1, 2018. Reviewed: March 1