An absolutely charming Italian evening with Freiburg Baroque Orchestra at Helsinki Festival

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A fabulous adventure into the realm of Italian baroque was provided by the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra, visiting the Helsinki Festival on Tuesday evening with their leader and artistic director Gottfried von der Goltz. 

Over the course of the evening, two marvellous concerti grossi by Arcangelo Corelli were heard. Derived from the collection of twelve concertos, first published in Amsterdam in 1714, these concerti were most influential in the further development of not only the concerto grosso, but of the symphony as well. 

It was Handel, who modelled his 1739 collection, Twelve Grand Concertos, HWV 319-330, after Corelli’s set, developing further the consept, and thus paving the way towards symphony later in the 18th century. 

For the Corelli concerti, the exact dates of composition along much of the knowledge of their performance practise is lost. However, based on the surviving payrolls, it us possible to determine the forces involved in performances of the concerti during Corelli’s lifetime. 

The basis of Corellian orchestra is formed of strings and continuo, augmented with two oboes, a bassoon, two trumpets and a harp. The full orchestra is at play in the Concerto Grosso in D Major, heard as the closing of the first half of the concert. 

The evening started with Corelli’s Concerto Grosso in C minor, scored for strings, two oboes, bassoon and continuo. With this charming concerto, the fabulous musicians of the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra enchanted their audience from the very first bars on. 

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After a riveting duet introduction by von der Goltz and Petra Müllejans, the oboists Katharina Arfken and Maike Buhrow as well as the bassoonist Eyal Streett joined in the delight of Corellian textures with uplifting musicality and intensity, with the orchestra providing a perfect playgound for the concertino. 

With his untimely passing at the age of twenty six, Giovanni Battista Pergolesi left behind a most fascinating and a fairly sizeable oeuvre, though some of them unauthentic attributions. Among the works now considered authentic, there are liturgical works, operas, sonatas and concerti. 

With its musical settings beyond count, the Salve Regina is one of the core texts of the catholic tradition. Pergolesi himself set this prayer for the Holy Virgin more than once, the last one being written shortly before his death in 1736.

This beautiful setting of Salve Regina was heard on Tuesday with fabulous Sunhae Im as soloist. The soprano part and the orchestral accompaniment were clad in beautiful harmonic colours, with textures rich in detail, resulting in a most moving performance.

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Concluding the first half, Corelli’s Concerto Grosso in D Major was heard. A jubilant piece with two trumpets and a harp added, the concerto calls for an ensemble of joyous virtuosity, ravishingly provided by the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra. A most uplifting experience.

After the intermission, we were in for the real treat, as the stage was set for Pergolesi’s comic opera, La serva padrona (1736). Scored for two singers, strings and continuo, the opera contains two scenes, lasting c. twenty minutes each. 

Originally intended for intermission entertainment for performances of opera seria, these chamber operas, or intermezzi per musica were usually scored for small ensembles. 

The plotline of La serva padrona features a relatively simple story of a cunning housemaid Serpino, who succeeds in luring her master, Umberto to marry her. Aided by the servant Vespone (a silent role), Serpino and Umberto interact via series of most hilarious musical numbers. 

Even though the comedy in La serva padrona is largely rooted in its unhinged reversal of social classes and roles, there are also contemporary undercurrents at play, with the male authority being outsmarted by a more clever female.

Pergolesi’s opera opens with an uplifting overture, setting the mood for the first scene. Driven to a nervous wreck by his stubbornly clever maid, Umberto finds his only solace in the fact that Serpino is a mere servant, not his wife. 

Not surprisingly, Umberto’s romantic interest in his maid is awaken, as soon as he learns from Serpino about her plans of a marriage with a military officer, impersonated by Serpino. Suddenly faced with his love for Serpino, a rollercoaster of emotions take hold on Umberto. After a series of unlikely events, the opera conludes with a love duet between Umberto and Serpino, now a couple engaged for marriage. 

Within the lightweight, yet witful libretto, Pergolesi writes a series of most seductive musical numbers to charm his listeners. The musicians of the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra brought the score to life in all its enchanting power, with every detail and nuance well taken care of.

Sunhae Im and Furio Zanasi were a perfect match. Their performance was pure vocal joy, portraying the caleidoscope of emotions embedded in the music with the utmost skill and joy. The clever semi-staging by Tristan Braun, also cast as Vespone, succeeded in capturing the essense of Pergolesi’s witful score. 

A single sofa was featued as a prop. There was a nice yellow-hued lighting providing warmth and intimacy for the big stage. Libretto with translations was luckily provided with the concert programme, although the small print required some effort in the dimly-lit hall. Surtitles would have been a big help. 

A wonderful evening from start to finish, the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra sure knew how to inspire the nearly sold-out Helsinki Music Hall audience. An evening of pure joy.

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Freiburg Baroque Orchestra

Gottfried von der Goltz, leader and conductor 

 

Sunhae Im, soprano (Serpino)

Furio Zanasi, baritone (Umberto)

Tristan Braun, director

 

Arcangelo Corelli: Concerto grosso in C minor, Op. 6, No. 3 (1714)

Giovanni Battista Pergolesi: Salve Regina (1736)

Arcangelo Corelli: Concerto grosso D Major, Op. 6, No. 1 (1714)

Giovanni Battista Pergolesi: La serva padrona (1736)

 

Helsinki Festival, Musiikkitalo (Helsinki Music Hall)

Tuesday 21 August 2018, 7 pm

 

c Jari Kallio

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