Enthusiastic Response to Baroque Music at Dresden Festival

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GermanyGermany  J.F. Fasch, J.A. Hasse, J.C. Bach, A. Vivaldi, J.D. Heinichen and G. F. Handel: Dresden Festival Orchestra/Ivor Bolton (director), Giuliano Carmignola (baroque violin), Bejun Mehta (countertenor), Albertinum (Lichthof), Dresden, Germany, 20.5.2013 (MC)

Johann Friedrich Fasch: Overture-Suite in D major for 3 trumpets, 2 horns, 2 oboes, 2 flutes, bassoon, strings, timpani and basso continuo
Johann Adolf Hasse: Aria ‘Dei di Roma’ from ‘Il trionfo di Clelia’
Johann Christian Bach: Accompagnato and aria ‘Nò, che non ha la sorte’/’Vo solcando un mar crudele’ from ‘Artaserse’
Antonio Vivaldi: Concerto Per la Solennità di San Lorenzo in D major for violin, 2 oboes, 2 horns, strings and basso continuo, RV562
Johann David Heinichen: Concerto in F major for 3 oboes, 2 flutes, 2 horns and strings, Seibel 23
Handel: Aria ’Non fu già men forte Alcide’ from ‘Orlando’
Handel: Rezitativo, accompagnato and aria ‘Che più si tarda omai’ / ‘Inumano fratel’ / ‘Stille amare’ from ‘Tolomeo’,
Handel: Aria ‘Vivi tiranno!’ from ‘Rodelinda’,
Handel: Water Music, HWV 348-350 (selection)

Dresdner Festspielorchester;  photo: Oliver Killig
Dresdner Festspielorchester; photo: Oliver Killig

On the evidence of the great enthusiasm shown by the Dresden Albertinum audience they were obviously sufficiently experienced to appreciate the quality of the performances and hear past the tuning problems of the period instruments played by the Dresden Festival Orchestra.

A few years ago at a period instrument concert at Lancaster University in England I recall the harpsichord tuner coming onto the stage a number of times to adjust the instrument sometimes in between movements. That is what happens when period instruments are being used in live performance and a substantial degree of tolerance is required from the listener. Most of these instruments have been modernised for good reason with some needing it more than others such as keyboard and brass; with the horn often sounding problematic even in its modern form. At the Albertinum the pair of natural horns sounded disagreeable and seemed incapable of blending together satisfactorily yet I’m sure that the playing was adept as the three natural trumpets that frequently sounded spectacular.

With a soloist as fine as Giuliano Carmigno there was not a chance of his playing coming across as technically mechanical, generally lacklustre, frequently insipid and even sterile – all accusations that have been levelled at Baroque violists in the past. For the majority of the evening Carmignola was literally playing second fiddle to the leader of the Dresden Festival Orchestra until he was able to apply his prodigious talent as soloist in Vivaldi’s Concerto Per la Solennità di San Lorenzo – a highly appropriate choice as this was one of Vivaldi’s works that was known to form part of the repertoire of the Dresden court orchestra in the eighteenth century. Carmignola clearly loves this music and was at ease with the considerable technical demands of the score. His playing had a controlled power and expression expertly blended with unerring artistry. I was struck by his captivating story-telling in the Grave movement and the highly virtuosic closing Allegro was played with a smouldering vibrancy and boldness often at breakneck speed, yet constantly remaining polished. Sadly the tuning of the instrument was occasionally less than ideal but that is the price to pay with gut strings.

Perhaps the most successful of all was American countertenor Bejun Mehta, an experienced Handelian who finally entered the stage after what seemed like an age. In the Johann Adolf Hasse aria ‘Dei di Roma’ from ‘Il trionfo di Clelia’ Mehta visibly took a while to compose himself moving rather jerkily through his range. When he did arrive at the top register he appeared to feel extremely comfortable there. By the Johann Christian Bach works ‘Nò, che non ha la sorte’ and ’Vo solcando un mar crudele’ from ‘Artaserse’ Mehta had settled considerably, displaying a certain purity and clear diction.

After the interval Metha with his confidence boosted, performed several Handel arias with ‘performed’ being the operative word as he was living the parts not merely singing the words. In the considerable demands of ’Non fu già men forte Alcide’ from ‘Orlando’ Mehta acquitted himself well although his coloratura was generally less fluid than ideal. By the final aria ‘Vivi tiranno!’ from ‘Rodelinda’ accompanied by strongly effervescent orchestral playing and featuring a pair of bubbly oboes Mehta had pretty much surmounted his difficult coloratura issues. He was able to convey considerable character, strength and amplitude in addition to giving his all to the part. The Dresden audience showed their appreciation with a heartfelt ovation.

The final work was a selection of orchestral pieces from Handel’s much loved Water Music. Ivor Bolton is most fortunate to have such a fine group of players who were clearly relishing the music and the responsive Albertinum audience. Impressive all evening was the principal oboe and the vibrato less string section displayed an attractive sheen and firm unison. Directing from an almost inaudible Johann Christoph Neupert period copy harpsichord Ivor Bolton, as enthusiastic as humanly possible, was effective in bringing all the parts together into one impressive whole. Two encores, then it seemed over all too soon.

Michael Cookson