Freiburg Baroque

Zelenka
Overture a 7 in F, ZWV188
Concerto a 8 in G, ZWV186
Biber
Battalia
Bach
Suite No.1 in C, BWV1066

Freiburg Baroque Orchestra
Gottfried von der Goltz (violin)


Reviewed by: William Yeoman

Reviewed: 3 August, 2004
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

This late-night Prom, performed with athletic aestheticism and very tight ensemble, included music by two Bohemian composers: Jan Dismas Zelenka (whose sacred choral music, if the examples I’ve heard are representative, is really quite superb) and Biber (whose experiments in scordatura, mistuning, predated Bach’s by a generation). And there was Johann Sebastian himself.

Zelenka’s Overture a 7, written in 1723 and one of only a dozen or so surviving examples of his instrumental music began the concert with a flourish. Modelled on the typical French suite (derived from the courtly dances as exemplified by Lully), the work opens with a luxuriously harmonized opening movement before moving into a delightful ‘Aria’ in which the lute accompaniment could be heard to great effect. After a couple of minuets and a charming ‘Siciliano’, the closing ‘Folie’ was a rousing allegro that set the scene for Biber’s Battalia.

Biber’s musical portrait of a battle is a singularly eccentric work given the musical effects employed, novel for their time. A ‘Sonata’ – a rustic dance replete with col legno effects, stamping of feet and the occasional whistle (the performers no doubt showing a little artistic licence here) – precedes the grotesque polyphony of ‘The Song-filled Company of Diverse Humours’, in which each instrument plays a different tune simultaneously to represent the soldiers’ singing. A frightening cacophony ensued. There was a return to sanity with a brief ‘Presto’ before the ‘March’, in which von der Goltz mimicked a fife on his violin accompanied by a ‘prepared’ drum-imitating double bass (a sheet of paper inserted between the plucked string and the fingerboard). A crystalline ‘Aria’ followed, in which cello and bass pizzicatos (slapping against the fingerboards) mingle with upper strings’ tremolandi, executed here with fire and wit, before ‘The Wounded Musketeers’ Lament’, its chromatic harmonies and suspensions poignantly rendered.

Zelenka’s Vivaldian Concerto a 8 returned us to the purely abstract level, Freiburg Baroque really excelling in this attractive music; a beautiful Largo introduced by solo bassoon (accompanied by a lute to great effect) frames two lively Allegros dominated by solo violin and oboe.

Bach’s C major Suite received a splendid performance with crisp, fully defined rhythms, varied articulation and phrasing, and some fine work by oboes and bassoons.

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