10 March 2018

Australian Brandenburg Orchestra: Thomas Tallis’ England

Australian Brandenburg Orchestra and Australian Brandenburg choir
Paul Dyer, conductor
Max Reibl, counter tenor

Melbourne Recital Centre
7:00pm Saturday 24 February 2018

And ABC Classic FM Weekend Afternoons (from Angel Place)
Saturday 10 March 2018

A few of us ganged up to buy Chris and Ian an Oz-Brandenburg subscription as a wedding present. Great idea: they renewed it for 2018 in the same row as us – up near pensioner class. “Thomas Tallis’ England” on a warm Summer evening was superb on so many fronts – the ideal (extended) wedding present for them.

Someone with an excellent working knowledge of music history (Mr Dyer et al) had drawn on their research to find well/not-well known music from composers who had worked together, succeeded each other, inspired each other and who had, very importantly for a composing career, managed to survive a potentially fatal devotion to the wrong religious brand.

The concert was a programming masterpiece. Every piece earned its place in its own right. And there was a couple of little private bonuses that every programmer has the right to enjoy.

Bonus 1: Here’s the question: Purcell’s Rondeau from Abdelazar, how do I know it? But there’s no answer unless you read the program note to its end. (It was used 250 years later by another brilliant Englishman in his Young Person’s Guide …).

Bonus 2: Tallis’s Third tune (Psalm 2) of 9 Psalm tunes for Archbishop Parker's Psalter was played without comment. Here’s the question: I know that theme, but where, how?”.

Thomas Tallis wrti.org
Ralph Vaughan Williams wrti.org
Wait three minutes and you’ll get it. It was recomposed into a landmark fantasy by Vaughn Williams 340 years later.

Listen for the viola part

Paul got it right with this program. He got it right with Max Reibl, particularly when he was paired with Timothy Chung and he got it right – as usual – with the orchestra and chorus.

The Brandenburgs – vocal and instrumental – have extremely high order musicianship. That’s by no means universal in Australian orchestras so it makes this gang stand out. But, most importantly they have a very rare precision. It’s not the mechanical, cut glass precision that many German-style orchestras have. It’s an organic variety that is precise but warm. We are enticed into the piece with the musicians to enjoy it’s warmth and joy. Reibl fell into that style too and the bonus he gave us was his acting. He brought “Cold Song” from Henry Purcell’s King Arthur to life with that most difficult of all acting techniques, ‘doing nothing’.
I can scarcely move or draw my breath,
Let me, let me freeze to death.
Simply wonderful, superb, unpretentious, gut-grabbing!

Dyer has a secret weapon; the like him! They have complete confidence in him (and him, them) and they trust him.

Word has got around. MRC was sold out – twice. Thomas Tallis’ England was a ten-out-of-ten concert.

I went hunting for a seat for the Sunday arvo repeat; I found two; I bought neither. The 5:30pm start would have made me very late for dinner with my ginger grandbrats; something that was always going to have higher production values than a Dyer job – even if he did have Australia’s best baroque musicians to work with.

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