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Baroque, brisk and symphonic

Southam Hall, National Arts Centre
04/20/2016 -  & April 21, 2016
Johann Sebastian Bach: Pasticcio-Concerto in D major
Georg Philipp Telemann: Concerto in F major, TWV 51:F4
Josef Myslivecek: Concertino No. 1 in E-flat major
Johann Christian Bach: Amadis de Gaule: Overture and Suite

National Arts Centre Orchestra, Yosuke Kawasaki (concertmaster/violin solo), Reinhard Goebel (conductor)

Billed as “Playful Baroque”, this week’s subscription pair by Ottawa’s National Arts Centre Orchestra (NACO) was in fact a striking thumbnail education on music’s development during the Baroque era. Guest conductor Reinhard Goebel, at 63 among today’s most respected specialists in 17th and 18th century music, was an inspired choice to mentor an evening bookended by J.S. Bach and one of his sons, J.C. Bach.

For the concert’s first half the orchestra was pared down to about thirty players with concertmaster Yosuke Kawasaki as featured soloist – the sound was arguably akin to what might be expected from a court or chamber orchestra during the early 18th century. The opening Pasticcio-Concerto (literally, a “pieced together” Concerto) was comprised of J.S. Bach’s Sinfonia in D major, BWV 1045, then the Adagio and Sinfonia from the composer’s Easter Oratorio, BWV 249. There were times when this performance might have seemed under-rehearsed, however as the evening progressed it became clear that Maestro Goebel likely had been targeting a semi-professional type of sound which could be typical for a “pieced together” composition at the time. The strings played with minimum vibrato and the metallic tone, if a bit harsh was controlled and intonation well maintained, and even evoked an “original instrument” ambience. The Adagio encompassed a fine oboe solo by first desk player Charles Hamann. Violinist Kawasaki didn’t project strongly, however this again seemed deliberate. The orchestra achieved stronger balance when they reached the work’s final movement.

The second work, Telemann’s Violin Concerto in F major, still with a reduced number of players, immediately accomplished a much richer, more focussed sonority with the beginning Presto. The soloist, even with one or two iffy moments, projected much more effectively here. Telemann’s orchestration and NACO’s playing delivered a range of sonority which may have surprised more than a few in the audience. The second movement Corsicana is a courtly dance, while the subsequent Allegrezza is brisk, even a bit bushy-tailed with a cute pizzicato at one point, and the Scherzo is in a highly unusual quarter time. The continuing Gigue, Polacca and final Minuetto are elegantly stately, with a sweet violin solo in the latter.

After intermission, NACO returned to more or less normal size. The Concertino No. 1 by Myslivecek, a brilliant if now neglected composer, opened with nicely fluid exchanges among different sections of the orchestra during the first movement Allegro. The ensuing Largo featured impressively sonorous strings and the final Presto featured strongly defined textures with clarinets and horns especially well displayed.

The closing Overture and Suite from Johann Christian Bach’s opera, Amadis de Gaule, was the evening’s high point and more than a few listeners may have been surprised to hear a selection of opera excerpts which sounded more like a classical Symphony or Sinfonia Concertante. As Robert Markow’s always excellent program notes correctly tell us, the opera’s Overture is effectively a miniature Sinfonia. Between its structural complexity and overall sophistication it might well be mistaken for Mozart or Haydn, even early Beethoven. The more exotic later movements prefigure the dance-derived symphonic movements which became common by the 19th century. The double Gavottes, penultimate Ballet Sequence and closing Tamborin were colorful and genuinely playful in tone (as promised by the evening’s promotional blurb), and brought the concert to a joyous conclusion.

Guest Maestro Reinhard Goebel did an exemplary job of unifying a program of challenging range. By evening’s end, he demonstrated he could steer NACO’s musicians to deliver unique and clearly delineated sonority and style. It will be interesting to hear him again, down the road.

Charles Pope Jr.



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