Australian Brandenburg Orchestra: Thomas Tallis' England

Olivia Watson
23rd Feb 2018

In what is a remarkable surprise to nobody, the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra have done it again. Their opening performance for the 2018 program is a spectacular evening of English music tradition from the 16th, 17th and, for something a little different, 20th centuries, entitled "Thomas Tallis' England", taking to the stage at the glorious City Recital Hall until March 3rd.

Before we delve into the particulars, it must be said that this is a fantastic entry point into classical music for the somewhat more apprehensive amongst us, Scoopsters. Thomas Tallis' England is a fabulously vibrant, rambunctious, accessible night of orchestral and choral music; classical skeptics, we challenge you not to enjoy it. And with tickets from a cool $30 (and arguably no such thing as a "bad" seat in the City Recital Hall), how can one sensibly resist?

It is also, of course, a characteristically exemplary display of masterful musicianship. From the delectably dextrous digits of chamber organist Heidi Jones opening the evening with Orlando Gibbons' Prelude in G Major for organ, the program continues to deliver on our high expectations. Another Gibbons number (and a personal highlight) is a graceful complementing performance of hymn "Drop, drop slow tears", first by an ensemble of violas and cellos drawn from the orchestra and later, after a detour through "The silver swan", in choral form by unaccompanied choir. It is truly mesmerising.

The Australian Brandenburg Orchestra performs using instruments of the period in which the music they play was written. With these instruments and the original scores, the specialist musicians portray their art in as close as possible to the sound the composers intended.

For this concert, they are joined by award-winning guest countertenor Max Riebl (Australia), who performs regularly as a soloist and has featured in venues throughout Australia,  Europe and the UK. The Brandenburg's Artistic Director Paul Dyer AO describes Riebl's performance of "aching beautiful works by Purcell and Gibbons" in this concert, and we must say we agree.

Joining Riebl in the rest of the vocals is the ever stunning Brandenburg Choir, who have been featuring alongside the orchestra in programs since 1999. Dyer calls it "a ravishing blend of radiant Sydney singers" who add "a rich complement to our period instruments". There are familiar faces from several other leading Australian choirs, and as well some full time professional musicians the group includes lawyers, nurses, teachers and more - united by vocal talent and love of quality music. Tonight's choir gives a faultless performance; they tackle the Tallis polyphony with ease, their blend is exquisite.

The second half of the program centres around the title composer, Thomas Tallis. Tallis is the earliest of the composers featured in this concert, an influential figure in the history of English choral music, who has in some way impacted upon the work of all of the composers featured in this program. A set of works by Tallis culminates with the Brandenburg Choir's performance of the composer's setting of a psalm named by its opening phrase "Why fumeth in fight".  This tune then becomes the focal point of the final piece, "Fantasia on a theme by Thomas Tallis" by Ralph Vaughan Williams. It is a masterpiece and the Brandenburg shines. What a stellar opening to their 2018 season. 

Thomas Tallis' England plays at the City Recital Hall until March 3. More details about this and other Brandenburg programs can be found at their website.

Want more Sydney choral music? Check out the Sydney Chamber Choir's 2018 concert series.

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Angel Place
Sydney NSW