Last Saturday in Jordan Hall, the Celebrity Series of Boston presented a thoroughly delightful evening with the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin. Founded in 1982, the group, also known as Akamus, performed their program of German Baroque with charming ease and energy. I was particularly glad to see so generous a programming of Telemann, the Trollope of eighteenth-century music, so prolific and popular in his own time that he since has been too often dismissed as facile. And yet, how can a listener fail to be enchanted by the wit and variety and elegance of such pieces as the Overture (Suite) in f minor, or the Concerto in e minor for Recorder and Flute, with which Saturday’s program began and ended? The tenderness of the suite’s Plainte and of the concerto in particular was exquisite and touching.
I only wish that the flute had not been so often in danger of being lost in the texture. Christoph Huntegeburth’s traverso was so sensitive and expressive (incidentally, he also played recorder and piccolo) that I was sorry for every note lost. Presumably, this was to some extent the result of acoustics, as the flute was positioned at the back of the ensemble behind the harpsichord in the Overture. The strings did play the most translucent of pianissimi, but when both cello (lucky Jan Freiheit playing a five-stringed instrument!) and bass were playing, the flute was in danger of drowning. However, the delicacy of Huntegeburth’s playing worked wonders for balance between the soloists of the concluding concerto, where too often the brilliant flute drowns out the softer recorder. Here they matched in volume perfectly, so that the graceful duets twined in and out of each other, distinguished by color and timbre.
The Brandenburg Concerto No. 5, which ended the first half of the program, was a pleasure. In the famous harpsichord cadenza of the first movement, I was a trifle dubious over some of Raphael Alpermann’s agogic freedoms; flexibility of tempo and expression are essential in solo harpsichord, and each time he slowed meditatively and changed direction it seemed natural to the moment, but the cumulative effect seemed to drag the energy of the cadenza back just a little too much, so that the final outburst, while brilliant, felt a trifle late. Do not mistake me, however: it was a most energetic and sensitive performance – indeed, Alpermann all but leapt from his chair at the end of the cadenza with joyous re-entrance of the orchestra.
The Bach Violin Concerto in E Major (BWV 1042), which opened the second half, was perhaps the wobbliest part of the program, with occasional intonation issues. But the group pulled itself together again brilliantly for the Handel Concerto Grosso in F Major which followed. I particularly liked the arrangement of the orchestra here, with first and second violins on opposite sides of the stage – it highlighted Handel’s antiphonal writing very gracefully.
Most charming of all was that the evening ended, not merely with enthusiastic applause, but with delighted laughter. In the final movement of the Telemann concerto, a reeling bacchanalian dance with ferocious drones, Alpermann snatched up a tambourine – one of the violas whipped out a whirling noise-maker – and the whole concluded with a wild flourish as the tambourine was tossed high in the air. And then, as though to make us laugh even more, the encore was Rameau’s “Entrée pour les guerriers” from Dardanus, and Huntegeburth took out a piccolo, the recorder player Anna Fusek (who had also played violin earlier, by the way) took up the tambourine, and so sent the audience away in high good humor.