Concerto Copenhagen reviewed in the Sydney Morning Herald

Best man’s attempt at humour
Peter McCallum, Sydney Morning Herald
28 June 2011

ONE of the most Philistine comments in the history of Western music (as recorded in David and Mendel’s The Bach Reader) was made on April 9, 1723, by one Councillor Plaz at a meeting to appoint a new cantor at the St Thomas Church in Leipzig: “Since the best man could not be obtained, mediocre ones would have to be accepted.”

The best man was Telemann; the mediocre one who eventually got the position was Bach. Telemann’s Don Quixote Suite in G Major provided historical insight into the Baroque north German sense of humour, imitating Don Quixote’s awakening (soft viola, solo violin), tilting at windmills (lots of scurrying) and Sancho Panza’s donkey.

Councillor Plaz might have found it a hoot but even with this crisp, stylish and precise performance from Concerto Copenhagen, led punctiliously by Lars Ulrik Mortensen, it was a little reminiscent of the Monty Python sketch about the German version of the funniest joke in the world.

Telemann returned again at the end of the concert, jokes aside, with the Double Concerto in F Major. The recorder player Genevieve Lacey and the Baroque bassoonist Jane Gower gave a performance that swept away dourness in favour of light precision and breathlessly agile sequences in the fast movements and elegantly balanced ensemble in the slow. The balance between soloists brought out natural colours in each instrument, with Lacey providing golden filigree on top of Gower’s quiet graininess.

Earlier, in a bassoon concerto by Vivaldi, the Baroque bassoon had struggled to be heard – the tone was inhibited and the colour failed to emerge.

In Vivaldi’s Piccolo Flute Concerto in C Major, the piercing incisiveness of Lacey’s performance on the sopranino recorder had delicate, but more tangible, substance and bell-like clarity. She managed professionally the inherent pitch problems in the upper register of this instrument.

More musically inspired, varied and shaped than the Telemann was a suite from the Golovin Music by Johan Helmich Roman, sometimes known as the Swedish Handel.

Before that, Concerto Copenhagen gave a crisp, precise and rhythmic performance of the real Handel’s Sonata in B Flat. Catch them play Telemann’s mediocre contemporary, Bach, this Saturday.

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