Review: Obbligato Sonatas by Bach Akademie at St James Church Sydney

Review By Lee Sarich


Friday night in Sydney was cold and wet, but inside St James Church was chicken soup, balm for the soul in the Bach Akademies’ performance of the Obbligato Sonatas. The vastly spaced church well suited to pipe organs, unfairly allowed a dissipation of the ensembles finesse and though the stark lighting failed to enhance the subtleties of performance, the skill, dedication and passion of these musicians overcame these impediments delivering a transcending experience wholesome and sound.


Madeleine Easton is the Artistic director of Bach Akademie and her infectious, exuberant enthusiasm for the work of Johann Sebastian Bach alone, is enough to enliven the audience well before she starts playing. But play she does, enticing us to journey, soothing and frenetic, scolding and despondent, emotions and notes are exquisitely stretched, explored, laid bare and celebrated. Playing however does not accurately describe the ferocity, tenderness and precision with which the laser focus of her entire being is directed through the 1682 Giovanni Grancino violin. To feel deeply is a privilege and from emboldened joyful frivolous heights to the mellow beauty of pain embraced and expressed without apology or excuse, Madeleine leads us and her fellow musicians through this tumultuous and exhilarating nerve tingling adventure.


Neal Peres Da Costa wields the Harpsichord with deft sensitivity providing a solid structure from which the ensemble soars. Not only is it a pleasure to listen to this seriously talented and accomplished musician but also to witness his connection with Madeleine that exudes their shared joy in the music. The 6th sonata affords the harpsichord a solo, and we are treated to a captivating and meandering flow through rich complexities and simple hues. Witnessing mastery inspires admiration awe and wonder, and these gifts are delivered in great measure.


Anton Baba on the Gamba Cello rounds out the ensemble with depth and substance. Again a deep appreciation for the majesty of Bach’s creations are well evident as Anton compliments, supports and leads the other musicians by turns allowing the conversations between these instruments to develop like old friends catching up. Like any good conversation each artist and instrument in turn, dominates submits supports and encourages the others in hushed tones of reverence and racing excited screams to be heard.


The resultant stories are of a fullness that leave listeners sated yet wanting for more.


Images courtesy Melbourne Digital Concert Hall