Early music royalty rock the recital hall to bring the first week of Sydney Festival’s classical program to a rousing conclusion.

City Recital Hall, Angel Place

January 18, 2014

Right behind the notorious Ivy nightclub stands the City Recital Hall. Chalk and cheese, you may think – yet on Saturday January 18 the two venues had something in common. Both were pumping out dance music, albeit music separated by several centuries. Of course, dance music in the 1700s was far less primitive than today’s, especially as composed by the likes of Telemann (La Musette, TWV 55.g1) and Geminiani (Concerto grosso in D minor, after Corelli: La Follia). These suites, along with concertos for two violins by Bach and Vivaldi, formed the basis of the program by the Akademie für Alte Musik of Berlin, led by their concert master Georg Kallweit, and presented as part of this year’s Sydney Festival.

This original instrument chamber orchestra of seventeen musicians showed scrupulous adherence to the style of the late Baroque in the precision and detail of their performance, and an understanding of the music’s raison d’etre by their energy and drive. Like most of the audience, I expected elegance and purity – which we certainly heard in the central section of Vivaldi’s Overture from Il Giustino, and the Largo movement of Bach’s Double Concerto in D Minor, BWV1043 – but perhaps underestimated the sheer entertainment factor of this program. Telemann’s suite La Musette contains a number of vigorous dances, such as the Napolitaine, Polonaise and Harlequinade, while the variations on La Follia by Geminiani require a good deal of robust virtuosity – which they emphatically received.

So tight and responsive was the ensemble that it seems unfair to single out individual members, but Kallweit was an impressive soloist in Bach’s Violin Concerto BWV1041, playing with flexibility and expression. In the double concertos he was matched by a second violinist Elfa Rún Kristinsdóttir, and I must mention percussionist Michael Metzler, whose choreographed panache on the tambourine and castanets was a musical and visual highlight.

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