The Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin (AKAMUS) at St. Philip's Episcopal Church, March 21, 2017

    This program was an experience that could not have been improved on anywhere else in the world. While AKAMUS is a world-class group of musicians, and one could hear them wherever they play, when you add to that the quality of the venue (St. Philip's Episcopal Church) and the enthusiastic attitude of the MA'AM audience, it is clear that all this taken together made for a world-class musical experience right here at home.

The program opened with Telemann's Overture-Suite in Bb major - "Les Nations". From the start the audience was almost overwhelmed by the full and rich sound of Akamus. Specifically, this was an interesting work - a collection of 11 short pieces (somewhat like a theme and variations), several based on different nations. The most striking one (for me, at least) was the one representing Russia ("Muscovites") where the string ensemble managed to recall the pulsing sound of very large bells and a visual image of the Kremlin. Other pieces varied a lot, showing off Telemann's versatility in a way rarely heard.

Bach's Brandenburg Concerto #4 in G (BWV 1049) added two recorders in center stage, with a more traditional structure, Allegro, Andande, & Presto. Bach's genius was on full display here, involving the ensemble in a wealth of variations, some at breathtaking tempos, with the audience swept away until the very last note.

Händel's Suite from "Almira" (HWV 1) followed, with an Overture (begun with a slow, full passage, that seemed typically Händel), followed by extended asymmetric rhythm figures (dotted 1/8 note followed by 1/16 note). As in the case with the Telemann work there were short (9) variations fairly well separated and representing dances (Chaconne- Courante-etc.). Also like Telemann these showed Händel's ability at diversity.

Vivaldi's Concerto for 2 Oboes in d minor (R535) was next. These were baroque oboes, with a more pungent, almost brassy sound, with many back-and-forth passages, and in 4 more or less "standard" movements - Largo-Allegro-Largo-Allegro molto.

The formal program closed with the ballet music "Les Characteres de la Danse" by French composer Jean Féry Rebel (1666-1747). It was premiered in Paris in 1715, and, like the Tememann and Handel works, was made up of many different short movements (14), that proceeded like a circus parade, that is, elephants tail-in-trunk. That arrangement, however, would make good sense as a ballet piece, and have seemed natural if there had been dancers present. There were gentle moments here and there, interspersed with various tempos, rhythms, and dynamics. Somehow the music seemed to foreshadow later musical developments, although Rebel was more or less a contemporary of Bach (1685-1750), H&228;ndel (1685-1759), Vivaldi (1678-1741) and Telemann (1681-1767).

Following an enthusiastic response from the audience, AKAMUS then provided an encore, "Ouverture," a piece in the style of Telemann, by composer and counter-tenor Max Garriot, familiar from his work with MA'AM, who was present. In style and spirit this was of a piece with all that was played before, especially the opening Telemann work, and, after a bit, provided a section with a distinct fugal opening with the theme entering in several different voices one after the other, which I always listen for in works from this period, but which I had missed in the other works. I was grateful for this passage of polyphony, which satisfied my craving nicely. Garriott has kindly provided some background on this piece. To read it, Click here

One sometimes hears in television ads, "But wait! there's more!". While second encores are not common, there was one, Telemann's Overture from "Burlesque de Quixotte for Strings," It was big and powerful and lively, perhaps even raucous, once more differing from the other Telemann selections we had heard.

AKAMUS had 15 players with violins, violas, a double bass and a cello - perhaps a baroque cello, as it had gut strings to provide a more typical sound, although it had an extended endpin (uncharacteristic), which allowed the cellist to stand; two oboes, a bassoon, two recorders, a theorbo and a harpsichord. Some of those playing the recorders and oboes also doubled on string instruments. The theorbo - an "enhanced" member of the lute family shaped like a potato-bug mandolin with a 6 foot neck and lots of strings - added emphasis to the bass lines, along with the double bass, the cello and the bassoon. (The bass line is important in baroque music). The overall effect was rich, full and compelling, and the music throughout was very lively and also highly contrasting. It was as if each piece gripped your imagination and held you hostage until the end!

MA'AM has been a significant musical force here since 1982, and we are pleased to provide a link to our archives for a 1997 conversation between Frank Laney and Rich McGinnis, the President of MA'AM, discussing its origins. To read it, Click here

We also are grateful to St. Philip's Episcopal Church for providing a satisfying venue - both acoustically and visually - for our community for many decades.

Glenn A. Gentry