Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Members of the Helsinki Baroque Orchestra and soloists at the 2011 Israel Festival

Members of the Helsinki Baroque Orchestra, with harpsichordist Enrico Baiano (Finland-Italy) performed a concert of J.S.Bach harpsichord concertos May 28th 2011 at the Henry Crown Symphony Hall, Jerusalem Theatre, as part of the 2011 Israel Festival. The Helsinki Baroque Orchestra was founded in 1997; as of 2003, harpsichordist Aapo Hakkinen has been the HBO’s artistic director.

Johann Sebastian Bach composed seven complete concertos for single harpsichord, three for two harpsichords, two for three harpsichords and one for four, their opus number ranging between BWV 1052 and1065. All (excepting the Brandenburg Concertos) are thought to be arrangements from previously composed concertos for melodic instruments, probably from Bach’s time in Cothen. From 1729 to 1741, Bach directed the “Collegium Musicum” in Leipzig, a student society (founded by Telemann) that played at Zimmermann’s coffee house. Bach’s keyboard concertos, among the first of their kind, were performed there.

All the concertos on the program consisted of three movements, of the Vivaldi concerto model of fast-slow-fast. The program opened with Concerto for Two Harpsichords in C minor BWV 1060 (1735), thought to be a transcription of an oboe and violin concerto which has been lost. The differences between the two harpsichord parts would suggest that the original work was for two different treble instruments. Whether the latter existed or not, the Concerto in C minor exists for two harpsichords, the composer having written it to be performed by himself with the Collegium Musicum in Leipzig. The first two movements were presented somewhat blandly by the HBO, with more energy infusing the third movement.

We then heard Bach’s Concerto for Harpsichord in D minor (1738-1739), a piece reworked from previous works of the composer. A mammoth work demanding virtuosity on the part of the soloist, Enrico Baiano spelled out its intensity, complexity and dazzling beauty. The ripieno string members commented and communicated.

In the Concerto for Harpsichord in D major BWV 1054, recast from a violin concerto in E major, transposed down a tone, and with new figurations, we heard Hakkinen as soloist in an articulate, spirited reading of the work.

It is assumed that Bach’s Concerto in C major BWV 1061 originally consisted of the two harpsichord parts, with the string parts having been added later. The strings play a less focal part, being absent in the second movement. There was much lively interaction between Baiano and Hakkinen.

There is no denying the high quality of the HBO players. The works were delivered with competence but the evening lacked panache. There were moments when Bach’s music was pared down to being pedestrian. Where was the flair and pizzazz that make Bach’s music so timeless? The two fine harpsichord soloists might fare better in a more inspiring environment.

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