Got to see Bach Collegium Japan for the first time at the Library of Congress last night, in a seemingly rare DC appearance. There's a certain electricity generated by the major league period bands, an expectation that you're going to hear something entirely new that you're unlikely to hear again, and Masaaki Suzuki and his forces delivered in memorable fashion in a program of Bach, Vivaldi and Handel.
The Collegium anchored the evening with Brandenburg Concerto No. 2, an exciting taste of the period brass and wind delights to come. The highlight here was trumpeter Guy Ferber playing a coiled baroque trumpet that cooperated only intermittently, but when it did produced a unique gentle tone that blended beautifully with the buzzy, cacophonous sound of the band. Idle googling of baroque trumpets this morning (as one does) turned up this Nikolaus Harnoncourt quote which sums up the appeal quite nicely: "Bach wrote a concerto [2nd Brandenburg] for four different but equal
instruments: trumpet, recorder, oboe, violin. The art was to create a
dialogue among these four instruments, and this is obviously only
possible when the trumpet plays as softly as the recorder and the
recorder as loud as the trumpet."
The meat of the program was dominated by two Vivaldi concertos for solo winds. The first, the Concerto in C major for recorder, strings and continuo (RV 443) featured what can only be described as a completely gonzo recorder solo played by Andreas Bohlen that inspired a raucous mid-half standing ovation. The second, the Oboe Concerto in C major (RV 450), presented Masamitsu San'nomiya in a dizzy, elegant oboe solo that showcased the great expressive possibilities of the instrument. Rounding out the wind offerings, was something a bit less flashy, Bach's Sonata for flute in E minor (BWV 1034), with soloist Kiyomi Suga on the traverso flute. The mellow sound of the wooden flute was welcome for a non-flute enthusiast and Suga delivered long, sighing phrases in the third movement.
After the Branderburg, the Collegium's biggest forces were assembled for two works with soprano Joanna Lunn. The second, Bach cantata "Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen!" (BWV 51) was the biggest attraction, featuring Ferber on spinning out long trills on another baroque trumpet, and a series of energetic tempi. The first, a recently discovered and disputed setting of the Gloria attributed to Handel, wasn't terribly distinctive but included some sparkling passagework. Lunn had her work cut out for her in carrying these pieces and did yeoman's work throughout, though hampered a bit by that soprano volume knob thing--a bright, very loud (though nice sounding!) top that jarringly alternated with a more anemic middle register.