A Most Stimulating Evening of Bach and Telemann

08/12/2017

Reversed Fortunes, music by Bach and Telemann: Academy of Ancient Music / Bojan Čičić (violin/director). Milton Court Concert Hall, London, 7.12.2017. (CC)

Bach – Brandenburg Concerto No.5 in D BWV 1080 (1720/21); Brandenburg Concerto No.4 in D BWV 1049 (1719/20)
Telemann – Concerto for Flute and Recorder TWV52:e1 (1712); Overture-Suite, ‘Burlesque de Don Quixotte’ TWV55:G10 (1761)

This was a concert of the topmost order. Reversed Fortunes is right, for in his day Telemann was considered the far greater composer and was much better known than Bach. Enter Telemann 250 to give us the opportunity to question assumptions, and the first of two concerts on this theme by the AAM.

A pre-concert discussion by Rachel Brown, Bojan Čičić and writer Lindsay Kemp explored this issue along with exploring repertoire and examining scoring (the Concerto for Flute and Recorder by Telemann, a Trio for recorder and two flutes – not unique, as Quantz also wrote for this combination, but unusual) and an exploration of the Polish influence on Telemann.

We heard familiar fare though for the first piece, the Fifth Brandenburg, and with one-to-a- part this was a light Fifth. The guest harpsichordist was Alastair Ross, who seemed to be generally more liberal with rubato and generally freer than his colleagues. Fleet of finger though he was, and good though he was in the great cadenza, there was still the feeling that there was something of a disconnect. With the transparency afforded by single players, the finale fizzed along delightfully.

Curiously, the Telemann Concerto for Flute and Recorder, TWV52:e1 and the ‘Burlesque de Don Quichotte’ were programmed together in the opening night of Itinéraire Baroque 2017, Ton Koopman’s festival in France. The Concerto is a fabulous piece, pure in its joy of life. If the AAM had less of an incisive way than Koopman’s Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra with the weighted chords of the opening Largo, there was much to be enjoyed in the exchanges between the soloists: Rachel Brown and Rachel Beckett chased each others’ lines delightfully. The folksy, minor-key finale is heavily Polish influenced and was fabulously given here.

How wonderful to hear the ‘Burlesque de Don Quichotte’ again, its Overture plus seven character movements surely revealing the composer in maximal fun mode. Inspired, of course, by Don Quixotte of La Mancha, Telemann delights in contrasting a portrait of the Don’s horse with his companion Sancho Panza’s donkey in two consecutive movements. The repeated rhythms of ‘Le Réveil de Quixotte’ over which spun the most magical awakening was a true highlight of the entire concert. Perhaps the AAM was not quite as rustic as Koopman and his forces overall, but Telemann’s little gem shone nonetheless, and there was noting held back about the AAM’s attack on the windmills; neither could we miss the Affektenlehre aspect of the sighs in ‘Ses soupirs amoureux après la Princesse Dulcinée’. Čičić offered fabulous violin solos against a drone in the finale, ‘Le couché de Quichotte’. Incidentally, the programme notes for the AAM performance include reference to an opera by Francesco Conti, on the subject of this particular Don, in Hamburg in 1722; a fine recording of Telemann’s Suite on the Raumklang label couples the ‘Burlesque’ with Conti’s Overture in C, ‘Don Chischiotte in Sierra Morena’ (Raumklang RK2502D).

Finally, it was back to familiar turf with the Fourth Brandenburg. The performance was pretty much faultless. The two Rachels starred again, with Čičić again doing the violin solo honours. There was a palpable feel of everyone having a ball, the superfast violin passages extra-clean, phrases tossed between colleagues as in a children’s game. Rachel Brown provided some stunning phrasing in that central panel before a sprightly finale, with magical contributions from the soloists, rounded off a superb evening.

The AAM will return to the Barbican Hall on 20 December for a performance of Handel’s Messiah that will be preceded by a performance of a new work A Known Young Voice by Hannah Conway, a premiere that is the result of work with schoolchildren on issues raised by the Messiah, such as, pertinently in this day and age, ‘Why do the nations rage so furiously together?’. It should be a most stimulating evening; this one certainly was.

Colin Clarke

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