Pint-sized orchestra delivers a good brew

31 October 2020

Large orchestral works in traditional concert halls might be out of the question but Sandra Bowdler discovers Bach in a brewery, thanks to the small and creative Australian Baroque ensemble.

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‘Bach and Beer’, Australian Baroque ·
Bright Tank Brewing Company, 29 Oct 2020 ·

In this “Year of the Virus”, young companies of many kinds are seeking new and creative ways to maximise their relationship with the public. Perth is singularly lucky in that there appear to be no active COVID cases in the community (I haven’t seen anyone in a mask for months) but some restrictions still apply, so no Rite of Spring in the Concert Hall. On the other hand, why not Bach in a brewery?

This concert however went beyond that simple concept to an integrated idea of Bach AND beer. Five pieces by Johann Sebastian Bach were interspersed with four different types of beer, with Gemma Sampson, owner of Bright Tank Brewing, explaining in depth the character and history of each beer type as they were distributed to the audience, while harpsichordist James Huntingford discussed each musical piece, and how he perceived their relationship to each beer type. 

I must own to not being much of a beer drinker, so I am afraid I cannot comment on that aspect with any credibility. Musically, however, there was much to enjoy. The long narrow venue, flanked by shiny brewing vats, had an unexpectedly reverberant acoustic. The only drawback was that the players were on the same level as the audience so it was hard to see them. The ensemble comprised a chamber string orchestra, plus a soprano, trumpet and flute, all on historical instruments.

READ more about Australian Baroque’s creative approach to finding fresh new audiences.

The smallish forces displayed great clarity but with some added riches of complexity. The first item was the first movement of the Double Concerto for two violins (BWV 1043), led by the ensemble’s leader Helen Kruger joined by violinist Sara Papadopoulos. As with all the other items, one of the most endearing qualities of this mostly young group was its energy and enthusiasm, well communicated to the audience. This was followed by the slow movement of the Triple Concerto (BWV 1044). 

Another piece of luck for Perth is that soprano Sara Macliver is quarantined here with the rest of us. This world class singer spun gleaming loops of sound in Bach’s Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen (BWV 51).  She was joined by Kathryn Aducci on natural trumpet and the two bright voices negotiated every twist and turn of the first and last movements, with an electrifying “Alleluja”.

The first movement of the Brandenburg Concerto No 5 (BWV 1050) is a great showcase for flute (Robin Hillier), violin (Kruger) and keyboard (Huntingford). The somewhat brassy acoustic did not always allow the wooden flute to be heard, but when it was less encumbered it shone with sweet delicacy. Most breathtaking was the harpsichord in its intricate solo movement.

The final item was sections from the Orchestral Suite No 2 (BWV 1067), in particular the Handelian overture, and the “Badinerie” (meaning badinage, jesting), which comprises the last movement. This jolly piece was played with lively attack and drew a warm response. One hopes everyone got home safely, especially the guy who drank my share of the beer.

Australian Baroque’s next concert will be ‘Baroque in the Ballroom’, 7 November 2020.

Pictured top: Soprano Sara Macliver and the musicians of Australian Baroque. Photo supplied

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Author —
Sandra Bowdler

Sandra Bowdler is an archaeologist who has been writing about music for some twenty years, most recently for Opera magazine (UK), Bachtrack and Handel News. She is also the author of “Handel’s Operas in Australia, a performance history” Händel Jarhbuch (2017). Her favourite piece of playground equipment would be the picnic bench with smoked salmon sandwiches and champagne.

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