Friday, August 31, 2007


A good BBC 1 TV Proms broadcast this evening - the Baroque concert from last Thursday (23 August 2007) featuring a lively collaboration between two leading period-instrument groups, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (with Rachel Podger violin/director) and the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra (with Gottfried von der Goltz violin/director ). The programme centred on Handel, including the famous the ceremonial fireworks music written in honour of King George II, the Concerto a due cori in F major, HWV 333, and arias and duets performed by Kate Royal (soprano) and the wonderful Ian Bostridge (see pic - tenor). We also got Purcell (arr. Catherine Mackintosh), Sett of Favourite Airs, Fantasies and Dances. Telemann's Suite in G minor for two solo violins, strings and basso continuo, TWV 55:g8, didn't make the TV cut, unfortunately.

Some kind of comment on the 'period instrument' issue is inevitable, I guess. The overall sound mix was certainly fascinating, and the virtuosity of the performers extraordinary. The strings are duller in tone than their modern equivalents, and the breath control required for valveless horns and woodwind is considerable. I was full of admiration. The passion and communication of the performers lent the whole concert an undoubted vibrancy.

Yet I remain slightly sceptical. 'Authentic performance' can make a genuine contribution to our understanding and appreciation of the music, yet it is still a tentative exercise, historically speaking. I also can't help wondering how Handel would feel about it. He would find some 'modern instrument' performances of his instrumental pieces quite remarkable, I'd wager, and would crave the control and modulation available to the contemporary performer. "Why deny yourselves the best?", I can hear him saying. There's room for both approaches, of course. But music is alive and should be allowed to develop. We owe it to those who gifted it to us. Not least Handel, whose zest for life was always forward-looking.

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