Australian Baroque Brass Comes to Tidewater

A fun evening of Baroque music performed on period instruments was both educational and entertaining as the Australian Baroque Brass brought their relaxed and friendly 2008 USA Tour to Virginia Beach. Thalia Lynn Baptist Church hosted the group in their large circular sanctuary on January 17, 2008. The wood-paneled high-domed acoustic space worked well as we heard natural trumpets, sackbuts and a hand horn. The player's attire and spoken introductions were casual but their musicianship was first class.

We were captivated by the voice of soprano Anna Sandstrom who reminded us of Emma Kirkby. No bel canto singer here, her sound was clear, clean and unforced with very little vibrato. In conversation we learned that her role model was none other than English Baroque music specialist Emma Kirkby. She presented beautiful vocal treasures paired with the organ as continuo played by Kathrine Handford from Minneapolis/St. Paul and the brass players. In Amarilli, mia bella by Giulio Caccini (1551-1618) her passionate singing and embellishments of the musical line were enhanced by the stereophonic but gentle sound of the organ.

The opening piece, Three Intraden mit Praludien for winds and organ by German Cantor Daniel Speer (1636-1707) , had a fanfare sort of energy with a rich organ interlude. Before he played Johann Pezel's (or Petzold) (1639-1694) Sonatina No.74 (Bicinia), Artistic Director John Foster demonstrated how the holes in a natural trumpet are used. Pezel was a German trumpet player and a prolific composer of pieces for wind instruments.

Early in the program organist Kathrine Handford treated us to a great, roaring solo piece by Diedrich Buxtehude (1687-1707). Near the end of the program she presented a six-part chorale setting by J.S. Bach (1685-1750) Aus der Tifen Rufe (Out of the depths I cry to you, oh Lord hear me) from Cantata 131. She told us that the piece called for her to play two parts in the right hand, two in the left, one in the left foot and one in the right. She recounted the story of Bach's taking a three week leave as church organist to visit Buxtehude and staying away three months to learn from him.

Warrick Tyrrell showed us a sackbut, the early English name for what has developed into the modern trombone. He demonstrated the sound of the historical soprano, alto and tenor instruments. Condensation is an issue with all these wind instruments which had to be drained often during the performance. He played two parts of Leopold Mozart's (1719-1787) Concerto in G, Adagio and Allegro with organ continuo. The early instrument has a very mellow sound in contrast to a modern one. The first half concluded with trumpeters Foster and Yoram Levy and trombone player Tyrell with organist coming together to play Antonio Caldara's (1670-1736) Sonata in C.

Accompanied by organ and hand horn Ms. Sandstrom sang W.A. Mozart's (1756-1791) lungi da te, mio bene from his opera Mitridate, written when he was fourteen. A long instrumental hand horn and organ duet opens the piece. The mellow, rich playing accompanies the soprano (originally written for male soprano) as he sings of his longing because his beloved will soon be far from him. After the interval (intermission) Alessandro Scarlatti's (1660-1725) Mio tesoro per te moro (My love I die for thee! Come soon to comfort me) was the next vocal selection. It was a lesson in Baroque style contrasted with the recording we know best, Kathleen Battle with her bel canto and operatic voice and Wynton Marsalis playing a modern trumpet. Sandstrom's G.F. Handel (1685-1759) selection Lascia ch'io pianga (Let me weep) from Rinaldo was superbly ornamented.

Darryl Poulsen introduced the hand horn and demonstrated the challenge of playing it. The left hand is placed in the bell of the horn to produce notes beyond the single harmonic series of the instrument to create the full chromatic scale. The instrument has evolved into our modern French horn. Mozart's Allegro from Horn Concerto in D K412 had a remote, mellow sound. His notes were surprisingly accurate given the challenge of producing them by finger movement within the bell of the horn.

In Michael Haydn's (1737-1806) Nacht der Wandlung from his German High Mass the soprano was joined by hand horn and organ in a lovely quiet piece. The show closed with The Fife and Harmony of War, a rousing piece by Henry Purcell (1659-1695) from his Ode for St. Cecilia's Day. Ms. Sandstrom was the high treble tone above the sweet warm bed of instrumental sound. It was spectacular and left the audience with an excited glow.

After the program we bought one of their CD's titled Music of the Golden Age. It is Baroque chamber music by German and Italian composers with the full twenty member Australian Baroque Brass all playing period instruments. (Tubicium Records TR 761901). I was disappointed that it only has one vocal piece by soprano Anna Sandstrom and no hand horn player at all. The CD does extend the instrumental repertory: ten natural trumpets, five sackbuts, two classical flutes, baroque cello, timpani and percussion means they offer many treasures from the Baroque era in this 53 minute CD. The recorded sound is first rate.

Our friend Marlene Ford, Eastern Virginia Brass horn player, shared with us a CD of chamber pieces written for natural horn and strings: Cornucopia "French Chamber Music for Horn and Strings" (Early Music Institute Focus 942). Richard Seraphinoff, plays natural horn in music by Duvernoy, Dauprat and Reicha. I loved the sound of the natural horn, so much mellower than the modern horn. Mr. Seraphinoff's playing is superb.

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