Australian Brandenburg Orchestra: The Harpist

Olivia Watson
4th May 2018

The Australian Brandenburg Orchestra premiered their latest show this week at the City Recital Hall, Angel Place. Aptly titled "The Harpist", this performance was the Australian debut for internationally acclaimed harpist Xavier de Maistre of France.

It is a stunning night of instrumental talent from the orchestra well known for playing from original edition scores using instruments from the period in which they were written, thus maximising authenticity as much as they can.

This concert begins with Mozart's striking Symphony No. 20 in D Major, before the harpist makes his first appearance and joins the orchestra to round out the first half. After interval, we are treated to Symphony No. 1 in D Major  by Carl Philip Emanuel Bach, son of Johann Sebastian. The listening notes promise "a kaleidoscope of tone colours from various combinations of intruments" and we are not disappointed.

Artistic director Paul Dyer AO explains that the programme is designed to be somewhat of a tour of the evolution of harp music, from the early eighteenth century towards closer to the present. 

After starting to learn his instrument at the age of nine, de Maistre has since earned himself a reputation as one of the world's leading harpists. He has featured around the world with multiple internationally acclaimed orchestras and has an exclusive recording contract with Sony Music, with sixth albums to date. 

Dyer says that after he first was introduced to the music of Xavier de Maistre in France he "immediately decided to bring Xavier to Australia as quickly as [he] could". Here we are, enjoying his success in this goal.

De Maistre is captivating, deftly evoking the smoothest of melodies from the strings of his instrument. His first appearance is in Francois-Adrien Boieldieu's Harp Concerto in C Major, Op. 82, where the harp features amidst the support of the orchestra, which provides gentle accompaniment and sometimes fades completely to allow the full character of the harp to be heard.

The Australian Brandenburg deliver their characteristic excellence, having a featured harpist is a treat for listeners.

The final piece of the evening is Bedrich Smetana's 'Vtlava (The Moldau)', a movement from Ma vlast, that is reportedly designed to portray the path of the Vtlava river in the Czech Republic, with the surrounding environment reflected in the music as it follows the course of the river through the changing landscapes.

Balancing a harp with an orchestra must no doubt be challenging, and it is seemingly sensible that each features separately in several works. Xavier de Maistre ends the show alone and centre stage with a mesmerising solo performance, a stunning conclusion to his premiere Australian performance.

The Harpist is at the City Recital Hall until Friday May 11th, with tickets from $39 for under 30s. You'll find more details here.

Images: Steven Godbee