The Splendors of Dresden and of the Oboe

United StatesUnited States The Splendors of Dresden: Juilliard415, Gonzalo Ruiz (conductor and oboist), Rosemary and Meredith Willson Theater at Juilliard Music School, New York, 12.4.2012 (SSM)

Johann Friedrich Fasch: Suite in G Major, FaWVK:G12
G. P. Telemann: Suite in E Minor for Two Flutes, Strings and Continuo (Tafelmusik I/1)TWV 55:e1
J. S. Bach: Oboe Concerto in D Minor, BWV 1059
Telemann: Septet (Concerto) for Three Oboes, Three Violins and Continuo in B-flat, TWV 44:43
Johann David Heinchen: Concerto and Suite con Violino, Oboe e Traverso in G Major
Telemann: Suite in E Minor for Two Flutes, Strings and Continuo (Tafelmusik I/1)TWV 55:e1


This delightful and spirited performance by the students of Juilliard’s Historical Performance Department was led by the eminent oboist and faculty member Gonzalo Ruiz. This year alone the students have performed under the leadership of some of the foremost conductors in early music: William Christie, Monica Huggett (Faculty), Richard Egarr, Ton Koopman, Jordi Savall, Steven Fox and Masaaki Suzuki (at the end of April). Each conductor brought a personal style of conducting, but also ideas on the technique of playing Baroque instruments. Monica Huggett has a wealth of knowledge of stringed instruments; Jordi Savall, the viola da gamba; and Gonzalo Ruiz, the oboe.

Lully was one of the first composers to use oboes, probably transitioning from the older pre-oboe instrument, the shawm, and his unique sound is always recognizable by the oboe’s prominence. Any composer who was influenced by him carried this particular timbre back to his own country. In addition, Lully’s opera overtures became the standard form for most Baroque operas that followed, and the popularity of the form soon allowed composers to expand the use from an opera introduction to a suite of dances taking the name overture (and beginning with a traditional overture as well). The first two works on this program began with Lullian overtures: a slow opening section heavily accented with dotted rhythms, followed by a fast fugal middle, closing with a return to the opening tempo. This and the dances that followed were conducted with an emphasis on each movement’s unique rhythmic pulse. The Fasch suite, a rarely played work, exemplifies the kind of music that has unfortunately been neglected.

How different really is Baroque music from popular dance music when it is performed with the energy of Mr. Ruiz and his students? For propriety’s sake the listener holds back the urge to shake one’s head, tap one’s shoes or conduct with one’s finger. This vital rhythmic drive was felt here in even the slower dances.

The centerpiece of the program was the amazing performance of Bach ‘s BWV 1059, most often heard as a solo keyboard concerto but perhaps originally written for oboe. If this were the case, Bach would have needed a top virtuoso to play the note-filled score, and the Juilliard is lucky to have someone of the caliber of Mr. Ruiz on staff.

He came on stage with a stocking covering his scalp, which was explained in the program notes as a way of preventing sweat from dripping down his face and reaching his mouth. His performance revealed the possibilities of the oboe. At a recent concert of Il Gardino Armonico, the piccolo player and leader of the group, Giovanni Antonini, played a signature solo from a Vivaldi piccolo concerto. This solo part was played as fast as possible and although no notes were missed the music was rather superficial: a series of empty notes. By contrast, Ruiz’s solo was no auto-pilot performance; if anything his success in playing the difficult score was a result of the tension inherent in the work’s risks. The students played along conductorless, but they clearly were able to hold their own.

John David Heinchen is even less known than Fasch, having officially been “rediscovered” by Reinhard Goebel and the Musica Antiqua Köln. Deutsche Gramophon’s advertisements for this recording in 1992 called Heinichen “The Vivaldi of the North,” just as Dresden has been called the “Florence of the North.” The concerto performed here has a wonderful middle section Allegro with brilliant writing for oboe and transverse flute.

The choice of venue – one of Juilliard’s more intimate performance rooms – only enhanced the whole musical experience.

Stan Metzger