Sampson’s Clarity and Grace and Helsinki Baroque’s Sensitive and Clean Accompaniment

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Telemann, Bach: Carolyn Sampson (soprano), Helsinki Baroque Orchestra / Aapo Häkkinen (director/harpsichord). Wigmore Hall, London, 6.1.2018. (CC)

Carolyn Sampson Photo: Marco Borggeve
Carolyn Sampson (c) Marco Borggreve

Telemann – Overture-Suite in B flat, TWV55:B8; Trauer-Musik eines künsterfahrenen Canarien-Vogels, TWV20:37

Bach – Concerto in D, BWV1054 (after Violin Concerto, BWV1042); Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen, BWV51

Good to see the proliferation of live Telemann continuing with that composer providing the music for the first half of this concert.

The Helsinki Baroque Orchestra has been led by Aapo Häkkinen since 2003, and there is certainly a unanimity of approach and attack that speaks of long acquaintance. The members that can, stand, as so often these days. Häkkinen played on a Flemish double-manual harpsichord after Ioannes Ruckers, 1628. The positive organ played by Anna-Maaria Oramo was by Klop Orgelbouw, Gaarderen, 2015.

Telemann’s most famous Overture-Burlesque is probably the Don Quichotte piece (heard both at Itinéraire Baroque last Summer and by the Academy of Ancient Music at Milton Court last year). The Overture-Suite the Helsinki forces presented references, instead of the Don and Sancho Panza, the figures of the commedia dell’arte: ‘Scaramouches’ (plural deliberate), ‘Harlequinade’, ‘Colombine’, Menuet I & II and a final ‘Mezzetin en Turc’. The bright, sometimes verging on harsh, sound of the antiphonal Helsinki violins made it an occasional trial. There was no doubting that huge preparation had gone into this performance, but one might have hoped for more overt characterisation.

One piece that was heard at Itinéraire Baroque was Telemann’s Canary Cantata. There it was Bettina Pahn with the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra under Ton Koopman who did the honours; here it was the well-loved Carolyn Sampson who captivated our hearts. One did wonder whether her black dress was in mourning or concert garb (the former: she was more brightly clad for the Bach in the second half). Clarity and grace characterised her superb account; in taking Telemann’s outpouring for a bird seriously one could more easily enjoy Telemann’s underlying wit. The accompaniment, too, was of great sensitivity and cleanliness. A superb way to lead-in to the interval.

Bach’s Concerto for keyboard, BWV1054 is extracted from the earlier E major Violin Concerto, BWV1042. The ultra-staccato opening announced this was not going to be an ‘easy’ interpretation. Häkkinen gave a creditable account of the harpsichord contribution, although his occasional gentle play with the underlying pulse threatened to extend too far. The strings excelled in the slow movement, held-breath in their restraint; a pity the finale was rather low on energy as it lost some of its jubilant nature.

Finally, the solo cantata Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen for soprano, strings and solo trumpeter (the last here Nicholas Emmerson). Dating from Bach’s Leipzig years, the piece exudes joy. Both Emmerson and Sampson were superb in realising Bach’s demands, while Sampson found a gloriously interior space for the recitative ‘Wir beten zu dem Tempel an’. The second aria, ‘Höchster, mache deine Gute’ features organ accompaniment before the Choral is managed by solo voice against two florid antiphonal solo violins, an effect that worked perfectly. The final ‘Alleluja!’ found Emmerson really coming into his highest virtuosity for Bach’s florid lines.

An encore would surely have to feature both soprano and trumpet after that, and so it was: Handel’s ‘Eternal source of light divine’ from the Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne, HWV 74. Slowly unfurling lines weaved their way across the Wigmore’s acoustic space magically; a truly fabulously chosen encore.

Colin Clarke

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