Adelaide Baroque 23 March 2024 at St John’s Church, Halifax St.

A sizeable audience attended both performances of the fitting sacred music for the week before Easter. The program was well-balanced and imaginative, including little known pieces from Brockes Passion. This German poet, a friend of Handel, wrote a series of verses around the Easter story and they were set to music by Handel, Telemann and some of them by J.S.Bach.

The Sinfonia from Handel’s work has a stately opening and then launches into an amazing fugue full of twists & turns that captivated the listener! This was followed by a moving aria “Brich, mein Herz, beautifully sung by Emma Horwood with restraint and delicacy supported by the relentless bass line, always moving forward.

The Telemann excerpt from Brockes Passion was a very different Sinfonia: the orchestra set the scene with held harmonies and gradually the oboe took over and we were treated to an oboe concerto with complicated quasi improvisations. Brendan O’Donnell played the tricky Baroque instrument with admirable skill. The round mellow tone was like a cor anglais sound.

The very first piece on the program was a Lullaby composed by Tarquinio Merula, born in 1595. An ostinato of 2 notes a semitone apart in the bass part, accompany the whole aria and create a peaceful, rocking illusion under the soprano’s lyrical song to her baby son. The expressive words were printed in the program which enhanced our listening.

The Medieval hymn, Stabat Mater, depicts Mary’s suffering at the foot of the cross. Many composers have set this to music and we heard excerpts by Alessandro Scarlatti and Pergolesi. Both were comissioned by the church of St Luigi in Naples to compose a setting for their Lenten Services. Each one has poignant, moving music. The long vocal lines were well sustained with a clear, steady tone: Emma Horwood at her best.

She was in her element in her rendering of  Purcell’s “When I am laid in Earth” from Dido & Aenaes. The tension, sorrow and acceptance were so well portrayed and the pianissimo ending was perfect.

There were more vocal items than orchestral ones, but the contrast was good. The precision, blend and drive of the small band of players confidently led by Ben Dollman was admirable. Catherine Finnis on cello & Rob Nairne on violone were steady and precise on the bass line with the harpsichordist Glenys March embellishing it. The violins merged and performed as one with the occasional violin improvisation soaring away and leading somewhere else! The middle voice was well filled out by the viola player, Heidi von Bernewitz.

Brendan O’Donnell was the soloist in the Adagio from Bach’s Easter Oratorium embellishing the chorale-like string ensemble with his excellent recorder playing.  In the following aria, Seele deine Spezereien,  he wove in and out of the soprano solo with sensitivity and nuance.

The orchestra came to the fore in Vivaldi’s Sinfonia written for the church The Holy Sepulchre. It is a serious, complex and sombre work, full of dissonances that come as a surprise from Vivaldi. The players conveyed this dark music with thoughtful phrasing and dynamics and the improvisation played by Rafael Font had a fluency and mellowness that was arresting.

The most well known aria was from the Messiah, How Beautiful are the Feet. A calm, expressive rendering captured the atmosphere perfectly and this was the case for the whole program. We were immersed in Passiontide, the inspiration for so much beautiful music.

Once again Adelaide Baroque gifted us an excellent, well designed program performed with style and emotion.

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