Akademie für Alte Musik

Suite in C (Hamburger Ebb’ und Flut)
Rinaldo [Selection]
Theodora [Selection]
Suite No.4 in D, BWV1069

Maria Cristina Kiehr (soprano) & Daniel Taylor (countertenor)

Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin
Georg Kallweit & Stephan Mai (leaders)

Reviewed by: William Yeoman

Reviewed: 4 August, 2005
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

The ‘other’ Water Music, Telemann’s, and Bach’s D major ‘Ouverture’ with its attendant dances: two Baroque suites of remarkable invention framing two duets which in turn framed two arias in this attractive programme by the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, well known not only for its fiery, high-precision playing but for its collaborations with both René Jacobs and Cecilia Bartoli. Former Jacobs student Maria Cristina Kiehr and Canadian countertenor Daniel Taylor sung in selections from Handel’s first London opera Rinaldo (1711) and one of his last oratorios, Theodora (1750).

Akademie für Alte Musik’s degree of sophistication in deploying its considerable technical armoury was immediately apparent in Telemann’s Suite in C, a programmatic work written in 1723 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Hamburg admiralty. Following a serene ‘Ouverture’, in which long notes sounded on a pair of oboes (throughout most of the concert the woodwinds were given further prominence by being placed in front of the rest of the orchestra) are decorated with gently swirling strings before the customary allegro, the suite unfolds in a series of dances depicting personages of a marine provenance from Classical mythology. Telemann brings to life Thetis, Neptune, Triton and Aelos with witty rhythmic and dynamic contrasts and colourful concertante-style orchestration; Akademie für Alte Musik likewise brought the music to life with some particularly fine playing of recorders, flutes and oboes, supported by nuanced string and continuo work (including the beautiful tone of Christian Beuse’s bassoon and Björn Colell’s theorbo- and guitar-playing). Not to mention a great sense of humour.

Next, almost by way of an interlude, came a selection of songs and arias from Handel, performed with poise and elegance by Kiehr and Taylor. Skipping the programmed recitative, the pair began with the popular duet “Scherzano sui tuo volto” from “Rinaldo”. This was a brisk and bouncy affair, the perfectly matched voices accompanied by some ebullient instrumental work. After a furiously despatched ‘Prelude’, the rampant bass line vigorously prominent, Taylor delivered a beautiful, moving performance of “Cara sposa”, replete with exquisite yet restrained ornamentation, while Kiehr’s recitative and aria “Dunque i lacci d’un volto … Ah, crudel, il pianto mio” displayed her greater dramatic range and gloriously floating tone, albeit with less inspired material than Taylor had to work with. The pair finished with a movingly performed duet from “Theodora”, preceded by an orchestral Sinfonia.

Bach’s Orchestral Suite No.4 closed the programme with more elegant virtuosity by the orchestra, now enhanced by three trumpets and three oboes. The emphasis here was on the dance aspect, with crisp rhythms and lively tempos driving the distinctively textured sections through the path laid out for them by violinist and director Stephan Mai. The ‘Gavotte’ and final ‘Réjouissance’ in particular moved along at a swift clip, though with no loss of clarity or detail, the whole inviting comparisons with the opening work by Telemann: a very different approach despite the similar provenance of the music.

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