Review: Concerto Copenhagen/Lars Ulrik Mortensen - telling Telemann

Concert was a showcase for the appeal of music by a composer often overshadowed by contemporaries Handel and Vivaldi, and baroque instruments delivered exquisite sound

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 March, 2016, 5:02pm
UPDATED : Friday, 18 March, 2016, 5:08pm

The dry, fine-spun, transparent sound of the baroque ensemble Concerto Copenhagen took some getting used to, like a low-salt diet. But once the ear adjusted, the blend of brass, woodwinds, timpani and strings was exquisite.

Director and harpsichordist Lars Ulrik Mortensen led performances of music by Telemann, Vivaldi and Handel with rhythmic vitality and colourful imagination.

Telemann may not be as popular as Vivaldi or Handel, but this performance showed how appealing his music is. His Concerto Grosso in D for three trumpets, two oboes, strings, and basso continuo wove the trumpets and oboes into the ensemble.

The baroque trumpets, notoriously difficult to play, had crimson decorations and sounded bold and bright. The oboes played by Hanna Lindeijer and Per Bengtsson made a graceful pair.

The instruments sounded like quirky individuals when heard alone. The excellent bassoon got a muffled titter from the audience because its personality was so unexpected – lighter, more like a saxophone than the dark modern bassoon. Even the timpani sounded sassy.

Telemann’s magnificent suite, Water Music ‘Hamburg Ebb and Flow’ was composed for the centennial of the Hamburg Admiralty. He paid homage to the water with fanciful depictions of sea gods and goddesses, finishing with a rollicking “The Merry Boat People”.

Outstanding moments were a stormy “Tempest”, sweet recorder duets in “The Pleasant Zephyr”, and a perpetual motion “Ebb and Flow” gigue.

However, in Vivaldi’s Violin Concerto in E flat, “The Storm Over the Sea”, both composer and soloist seemed to fall short. Unlike his The Four Seasons, written at about the same time, the concerto doesn’t have a strong melodic profile – it sounded like arpeggios rushing to nowhere.

Violinist Fredrik From, an admirable leader of the violin section, was hazy in exposed moments. The overall gestures were confident but the details were not – running passages were brushed over hastily and slower moments had doubtful intonation and lacked poignancy.

Handel’s Water Music (selected movements from three suites) was the high point of the evening.

It began with a grand overture suggesting the tread of gowned dignitaries. A duet for solo violins was lovely, full of life. Haunting sustained notes combined with elaborate baroque patterns made glistening waterfalls of sound.

The natural horns were not as secure as the trumpets, especially in the iconic “Alla Hornpipe in D”, but they brought a pleasing tang of the outdoors. The “Air in F” had a wonderful undulating rhythm.

Concerto Copenhagen, Watermusic, Hong Kong Arts Festival, City Hall Concert Hall. Reviewed: March 17