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
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