AUSTRALIAN HAYDN ENSEMBLE
Cell Block Theatre, March 13. Until March 14
These days, it feels like classical music performances fall into two categories: the quest to make newness old, and the quest to make oldness new.
The Australian Haydn Ensemble falls into the latter, bringing scholarship and curiosity to well-aged and more or less well-known repertoire.
To date, their performances of music from the 18th century have been ear-catching, but have relied on raw energy to smudge some rough edges.
However, in Beautiful Boccherini, their most recent concert, the thrill of discovery combined with a painstaking attention to historically informed articulation and instrumental techniques are finally translating into a coherent and, frankly, ravishing sound.
There are several contributing factors. First, the Cell Block Theatre has a generous acoustic which the Utzon Room, their other main haunt, can only dream of.
Second, they have an exceptional line-up for this concert, including the unerring pitch of Melissa Farrow on baroque flute and the clear, bright tones of soprano Sara Macliver.
Finally, the program centres on a work of revelatory beauty, the Stabat Mater, by much-ignored Italian composer and cellist Luigi Boccherini.
Boccherini has been damned with all the usual faint praise of the Rococo period: charm, lightness, optimism etc. The Stabat Mater, by contrast, is charged with emotion and features genuinely inventive scoring including a series of shadowy passages for viola, cello and bass.
Over this Maclive layers the vocal line with a focused but never forced sound to guide us through an emotional journey from grief to acceptance. The airy, free expression of her final amen, at last in the major key, comes off the stage like the faint warmth of the sun on a winter day.
The rest of the program features arias from Don Giovanni and The Magic Flute by Boccherini's more famous contemporary. Ach, ich Fuhl's is predictably gut-wrenching, an ideal work for this ensemble.
As for Batti, Batti, Macliver's choirboy delivery clashes with the drama – it's hard to imagine her as anything but innocent – leaving Anthony Albrecht's fluent and virtuosic cello obligati to steal the show.