Halfway through the nine-day Brisbane Baroque festival, it has become a blood sport as triumphant performances from unheralded artists have left half-hearted purveyors of the usual

schtick licking their wounds and rescuing their dignity.


Bruiser-in-chief on day four was Brisbane-trained, Melbourne-based mezzosoprano Elizabeth Lewis, who from the moment she glided onstage as Queen of Carthage in Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas was every inch the regal presence, commanding all she surveyed. In this semi-staged production with Erin Helyard and the Orchestra of the Antipodes once again outstanding, not even the characteristic kleptomania of the Brisbane City Hall’s rotunda — stealing one note from every three intended for the audience — could distract from a cast that rose to the challenge of having a genuine newborn star such as Lewis among them.

Sara Macliver was as beautiful as ever as Belinda, David Greco a vocal powerhouse as the cursed Aeneas, Louise Dorsman stunning as the Sorceress, and young Alexandra Oomens displayed real potential in three lesser roles. Suffice to say that during Dido’s Lament hard-bitten arts types were seen to weep.


By way of contrast, internat ional headliner Max Emanuel Cencic didn’t appear to raise much of a sweat during his recital on Sunday. Were it not for his gold showman’s jacket and an undemanding audience willing themselves to be impressed, the Croatian-born countertenor may as well have been in a recording studio.


Obscured by his music stand, his head in the score throughout, Cencic sang grand-finish-averse arias of the 18th-century German composer Johann Adolph Hasse. In a more intimate venue, this may have been one for the connoisseurs. Cencic’s sheer craft and technique were indisputable, and his lovely reading of Notte Amica from Il Cantico de Tre Fanciulli indicated why he’s a big name.


But in a large concert hall it was sometimes difficult to distinguish between his trademark rich lower tones and aural soup. The ABC’s concert recording may reveal deeper artistic engagement than was immediately apparent in the hall.

The hits of the evening were left to local heroes the Camerata of St John’s, which not only accompanied Cencic with real sensitivity, but ripped into Telemann, Gluck and Bach classics with authority and panache. Watch this space. This ensemble is going places.


So, too, is young English organist Richard Gowers, whose first Bach recital on Tuesday rumbled the City Hall walls. Meanwhile, across the river, the estimable Latitude 37 was into its fourth hour of radical retuning,detuning and basically reinventing music in Biber’s epic, bizarre and intriguing Rosary Sonatas.

With such a buzz around the place, don’t expect the festival to return to Hobart any time soon.