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Telemann, Bach and Handel:  Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York, 07-03-11 (SSM)

TELEMANN: Overture in F Minor, TWV55: f1

BACH: "Brandenburg" Concerto No. 5 in D Major, BWV 1050

BACH: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in E Major, BWV 1042

HANDEL: Concerto Grosso in F Major, Op. 6, No. 2, HWV 320
TELEMANN: Concerto for Flute and Recorder in E Minor, TWV 52: e1

One of the prominent themes in music of the Baroque period is, for lack of a better phrase, "Les Nations." Couperin's chamber music set titled, "Les Nations"; Rameau's opera, "Les Indes Galantes"; Lully's "Ballet des Nations" from "Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme"; and even Telemann's own "Les Nations Anciennes et Modernes" all speak to the Baroque period's openness and acceptance of national styles and idiosyncrasies. Both Telemann and Handel were cosmopolitans, living in probably the last period before each country felt it had to have its own distinctive music.

Although the three composers in last night's concert were all German, much of their music was modelled after the French and Italian forms of the day. Telemann's music was strongly influenced by French contemporary dances. The concerti grossi, represented here by a work of Handel's, are based on the form invented by the Italian composer Corelli. Bach, somewhat more isolated, wrote keyboard works in the French style and transcribed music by the Italian composers Vivaldi and Marcello. 

The program opened with Telemann's Overture in F Minor, which has an Ouverture (Overture or Ouverture being the name of the form as well as the title of the opening movement) that could very well have been written by Lully. Here Telemann mirrors Lully's stately and slow-paced style, heavy on dotted rhythms, and his brief fugal-like center section based on a theme of only a few notes. (By the time Bach wrote his four Ouvertures, these central sections were full-blown fugues.) The following movements are all dances with French descriptions. The heart of this work is the Plainte, performed almost romantically, each cadence stretched to squeeze out every poignant note. The AAMB played the final three dances without pause, a nice idea, but a problem in practice. Since the tempi of the Allemande and Chaconne are similar, it takes a couple of seconds to realize that, in fact, the Chaconne has already begun.

The second work on the program, Bach's Fifth Brandenberg Concerto, received a conservative, well-articulated performance. Harpsichordist Raphael Alpermann sensitively ran through the difficult cadenza, to which he applied accents and lines of phrasing that gave freshness to a part of the work often played just as a showpiece for the performer. Except for the slightly over-enthusiastic cellist, Jan Freheit, who continued playing forte as the rest of the group lowered their volume and silenced their instruments in preparation for the cadenza solo, the whole concerto was exceptionally well-balanced.

Bach's E Major Violin Concerto was performed by lead violinist Georg Kallweit, whose initial entrance as soloist was somewhat raw and thin. Thinking at first that this was the result of his Baroque violin, I soon realized that he must have made some adjustment to his technique to accommodate the acoustics of the hall, because moments later his violin came fully back to life. The central Adagio, one of Bach's most deeply felt instrumental movements, was beautifully played, exceptionally dark and rich in Kallweit's vibrato-less interpretation.

Handel's great instrumental cycle, the set of twelve Concerti Grossi, Opus 6, represents the high point of this Italian form (excluding the somewhat looser and less traditional "Brandenburgs" by Bach). The second concerto played here was particularly effective in bringing out inner voices lost in performances by larger groups.

The final concerto by Telemann is written for the unusual combination of flute and recorder. Here Telemann has in effect written a work that marks the transition from the older recorder to the newer, less nuanced, but more practical flute. (C.P.E. Bach in the same way denoted the end of the harpsichord with his concerto for harpsichord and piano.) The last movement, a raucous, rustic Polish-style dance, was enhanced by the improvisatory appearance of a tambourine and spinning clacker played by various members of the group.

Throughout the concert the performers created an ambience of ease and comfort and a sense of intimacy that made the naturally warm Zankel Hall feel as if it were one's living room with a fire roaring in the fireplace. In contrast to an earlier concert in this series performed by their Italian counterparts, Il Giardino Armonico, no unnecessary showmanship or technique for technique's sake was needed to produce a delightful evening of music.

Stan Metzger


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