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Embassy of Australia- Graham Ashton & Friends

By Stephen Neal Dennis

The Embassy Series concert Friday evening at the Embassy of Australia was an absolute jewel of a concert, and members of the audience who shut their eyes to block out the large pieces of Australian art hanging so handsomely on nearby walls might have thought they were in one of Christopher Wren’s London churches or a Baroque church in Prague.  The performers were highly talented, the music was delightful, and the organization of the program conjured up the Viennese term “mit Schlag.”  It was the inevitable richness of riches.

On paper, it was an evening of Baroque music for trumpet, soprano voice and piano. Perhaps technically there should have been a harpsichord to provide background continuo, but only a concert grand piano had a chance against Graham Ashton’s astonishingly skilled trumpet performance and Donna Balson’s equally celebratory singing.

From the opening three pieces by Alessandro Scarlatti, arias for soprano voice with trumpet accompaniment, the audience could be secure that they had lucked out and drawn magic straws.  Donna Balson introduced the three songs, suggesting they could be heard as the sequence of a love affair that ended unhappily with a thirst for vengeance.

Each of the performers spoke at least once to introduce a piece.  Graham Ashton gave the audience a brief history of Handel’s shifting political allegiances, as sometimes he obeyed the requests of his royal master at the Hanoverian court, and sometimes he chose to linger in England at the court of Queen Anne, who would be succeeded by the Hanoverian ruler.  Handel’sBirthday Ode for Queen Anne was nobly performed.

Bach’s Italian Concerto was a somewhat odd intrusion, unless one appreciated the fact that the trumpeter and singer needed a rest before continuing.  There was more Bach after the intermission, an unusual Cantata for trumpet and solo soprano voice only, “Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen,” a brief piece of great brilliance.

Ashton grinned as he introduced music by Giovanni Buonaventura Viviani, suggesting that trumpeters have an affection for pieces by strange composers, and assured his audience they would probably never again in their lifetimes hear anything composed by Viviani.

Henry Purcell’s theatrical music, including “To Arms,” was effective, but the “Suite fromThe Fairy Queen” was exceptional.  All too quickly, the musical portion of the evening was over, and caterers were rushing to surround the buffet table with heaping dishes of proclaimed Australian cuisine, including several dangerous platters of desserts.


Stephen Neal Dennis