European Union Baroque Orchestra: ‘A Taste of the Baroque’
Lars Ulrik Mortensen, director
St John’s, Smith Square, 3 December 2015
Muffat: Sonata No. 5 from Armonico Tributo
Biber: Sonata 10 and 4, from Sonatae tam aris quam aulis servientes
Marcello: Concerto for oboe in D minor
Telemann: Overture, Suite and Conclusion in D from Tafelmusik II
In the unlikely event of you ever feeling despondent about the future of music performance, or of the younger generation, an evening with the European Union Baroque Orchestra (EUBO) will soon restore your faith. This remarkable orchestra, formed in 1985, re-forms each year after intensive and educational, auditions held in the spring. They then meet several times during that year to rehearse and tour a series of programmes under a team of experienced ex-EUBO concertmasters and distinguished directors. This year’s season has been truncated because of a complicated bidding process for EU funding (which only partly covers EUBO’s costs). One of their partners in the newly formed ‘EUBO Mobile Baroque Academy’ is London’s St John’s, Smith Square concert hall.
Following their opening tour in September and October of music ‘Inspired by Italy’ they have now re-grouped for a short tour of a programme reflecting ‘A Taste of the Baroque’ demonstrating the enormous flowering of music during the Baroque period. They started with two enormously influential composers who both died in 1704, having successfully set the early Baroque on its course. Georg Muffat did more than most composers to unify the styles of France, Germany, and Italy. He was born in Savoy, studied in Paris, possibly with Lully, and then worked in Vienna and Salzburg before travelling to Italy where he met and befriended Corelli and studied the Italian tradition of organ playing. He eventually settled in Passau. The five sonatas in his Armonico Tributo are fascinating examples of his ability to combine national styles, the very movement names of the Fifth Sonata, played here by EUBO, reflecting this cosmopolitan taste with an Allamanda followed by an Adagio, a Fuga, another Adagio and an impressive concluding Passacaglia. His music is full of delightful little touches, many of which can easily become ‘ear-worms’, for example the lovely little sweeping seven-note phrase played by the two principal violins in the Allamanda, and the similarly gorgeous little ten-note triplet passage in the Passacaglia. He excels in revealing contrasts both between and within movements. The key soloists here were the Finnish concertmaster Aira Maria Lehtipuu and EUBO’s principal second violinist, Mayah Kadish (pictured), from Italy.
Biber hailed from Bohemia, but settled in Salzburg. EUBO performed two Sonatas from his 1676 Sonatae tam aris quam aulis servientes (‘Sonatas suitable for altar or court’), both featuring some spectacular trumpet solos played with great skill by Paul Bosworth (pictured). His trumpet flourishes were superimposed on a relatively pastoral accompaniment from a small group of strings and continuo.
The rest of the programme featured two later Baroque composers roughly contemporary with Bach, starting with the Italian Alessandro Marcello, whose Oboe Concerto in d was later cleverly transcribed for keyboard by Bach. The soloist was Tatjana Zimre from Germany (pictured), produced a beautifully expressive tone, notably in the elegiac Adagio central movement. The evening finished with Telemann, the preferred candidate for the Leipzig Kappelmeister post that was eventually given to Bach. Combining two pieces from his Tafelmusik II, we heard the Overture and the Suite of four Airs and the aptly named separate piece, Conclusion. All four of the EUBO soloists featured strongly, as Telemann weaved the two violins, oboe and trumpet together in a wide variety of combinations.
The 18 members of EUBO (representing seven different countries, plus their Finnish concertmaster and Danish director) were on particularly good form, playing with a delightful sense of playfulness and cooperation. The eye contact and frequent little grins between them showed just how involved there were with both the music, and with each other. As well as the soloists already named, other notable contributions came from bassoonist Alessandro Nasello, and cellist Candela Gómez Bonet (one of a team of six Spanish musicians that make up the whole of the lower strings). The leadership of Finnish concertmaster Aira Maria Lehtipuu (pictured – a member of EUBO 2005) made a very effective, and rather more subtle, foil to the ebullient and extravagant conducting gestures of director Lars Ulrik Mortensen, the pair of the combining to bring out the vast range of detail in the well-planned programme.
Further information about EUBO can be found here.