Australian Romantic & Classical Orchestra: Midsummer Dreams

ARCO-Rachael-Beesley-photo-by-Peter-HislopFor this final Canberra concert in its 2023 10th Anniversary season, presented in Canberra’s historic Albert Hall, the Australian Romantic & Classical Orchestra offered a dazzling performance of works by Mendelssohn and Beethoven for which it had gathered together 41 of Australia’s finest early music exponents.

The concert was part of an extensive tour by the Australian Romantic & Classical Orchestra, encompassing, in addition to Canberra, Brisbane, Melbourne, Newcastle, Sydney, Penrith and Chatswood, undertaken to celebrate the orchestra’s foundation in 2012 by the late Richard Gill.

Many of the orchestra’s original members who are now principal players in orchestras overseas, returned home especially to take part in this tour. Among them Canberra’s own born and bred principal bassoon, Lisa Goldberg, who now lives in Ghent. A Canberra local, violist, John Ma, has also joined them.

A notable feature of the Australian Romantic & Classical Orchestra is that most of its members play on either original instruments, or copies of instruments, from the period in which the music they play was composed, which adds an element of authenticity to the experience of listening to their interpretations.

The concert commenced with a scintillating performance of the popular A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Overture, OP 21, written by Mendelssohn while still a teenager, after he had read a German translation of Shakespeare’s play.

This work is among Mendelssohn’s most popular compositions and it was not difficult to imagine the scampering of fairies, or the braying of Bottom discovering that his head has been replaced by that of an ass, while being captivated by Mendelssohn’s fertile teenage imagination and precocious mastery of instrumentation.

Nor was it difficult to be captivated by the conducting of the Australian Romantic & Classical Orchestra’s co-Artistic Director, Rachael Beesley, who conducted each of the works from her violin.

Utilising every muscle at her disposal she signalled her wishes regarding tempi and expression to the receptive musicians. Her obvious joy in the music was so palpable, that it was impossible for both the musicians and the audience, not to be caught up in her enthusiasm.

Beethoven’s light-hearted Symphony No.8 in F Major, Op.93 is probably best known for its second movement which contains the repeated chords by the woodwinds supposedly meant as an in-joke by Beethoven for his friend, Maelzel, the inventor of the metronome.

Others admire it for its third movement minuet containing the gorgeous clarinet solo, superbly performed on this occasion by Nicole van Bruggen. No matter the preference, each of the four movements was given an exquisitely shaped, performance by the entire ensemble.

The final offering of the evening was appropriately Mendelssohn’s final symphony, the epic Symphony No 3 in A minor, Op 56, also known as the Scottish.

This symphony is unusual in that Mendelssohn marked the movements to be performed without a break, and although the title “Scottish” was attached to the Symphony after Mendelssohn’s death, there’s no doubting that it’s easy to conjure up poetic images of the ruined chapel of Holyrood which the composer visited.

The second movement certainly sets the toes a tapping with all the instruments busily tempting the audience to burst into dance. But it’s after the graceful third adagio movement that the excitement really takes hold as the regal beginning of final movement leads into the stirring coda, meant to emulate a male-voice choir, that brings this work to its thrilling conclusion.

When welcoming the audience to the performance, co-Artistic Director and Principal clarinet, Nicole Van Bruggen, remarked that with this season the orchestra had been investigating how music makes us feel. Well, from the vociferous applause at the end of this concert, there was certainly no doubt about how this audience felt.

Australian Romantic & Classical Orchestra: Midsummer Dreams
Albert Hall, 100 Commonwealth Ave, Yarralumla (Canberra)
Performance: Tuesday 1 August 2023

Midsummer Dreams will also be presented at Monash University, Clayton (4 August), Newcastle City Hall (5 August), Richard Bonynge Concert Hall, Penrith (6 August) and The Concourse, Chatswood (8 August). For more information, visit: for details.

Image: Co-Artistic Director, Rachael Beesley and Members of the Australian Romantic & Classica Orchestra photo by Peter Hislop

Review: Bill Stephens OAM