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Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin Concert

Akamus Concert I recently heard the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin in Charlottesville, where they played works by Bach, Telemann, and Handel in an all-German program. Here are some notes on the concert experience. Formed in the early 1980s behind the so-called iron curtain, the ensemble really emerged in the late 1990s to international audiences through their recordings on Harmonia Mundi. They have no sole conductor, but instead invite specialists when working with theatrical repertoire (passions, operas) and otherwise the role of a leader gets tossed between three different violinists. They play on historical instruments. Their concert featured Bach's 5th Brandenburg concerto, a suite and double concerto by Telemann, and a concerto grosso by Handel. The other featured work was Bach's E-major violin concerto, BWV 1042. The concert had good repertoire, and the players are expert. Among the stand-outs were Mr. Alpermann on the harpsichord, who had a superb solo in the BWV 1050. He took on a conductor's role in several parts, and in the last piece, pulled out a hidden tambourine which added unexpected zest to the closing concerto, featuring flute and recorder. The guitar/theorbo player looked bored. The ensemble performed in Cabell Hall on the campus of the University of Virginia. It was a round auditorium, but was certainly intimate for orchestra-section listeners. The ensemble suffered from 3 major issues, I thought. 1. the projection of the transverse flute and the male violin soloist (substituted so I don't know his name) was extremely poor. At times the flute was inaudible. 2. The same violinist took liberties with ornamentation, etc. in the Bach concerto which were nice; however Stephan Mai, playing first ripieno violin, was often louder and took control of leading the group. This left for some awkward pauses and phrasing for both the soloist and ensemble. 3. The opening Telemann suite demanded a larger string ensemble. The piece lacked gravitas in sections with a thin chamber group, and other gestures in the piece could have better been accented with a larger force. At times this piece was sterile enough to make one nod off. I've wanted to hear this ensemble for a long time, and cherished the opportunity. I'd position them as somewhat more virtuosic players than the AAM which I most recently heard last year with a Brandenburg program. Yet, as an ensemble, they are more traditional than a group such as the Italians, Il Giardino Armonico. The likely most reminded me of MAK, without MAK's signature string sound. The small details are what set the ensemble apart. The turn of phrase in a line, the way it's done, was handled well in so many instances with solos. While I noted projection was an issue with some of the players in terms of sound, everyone projected their lines with a definite form and attention that sometimes gets either lost of overlooked. Akamus, as they are sometimes called, do have a sensibility of an interpretation which is nice. It's just not as extreme or overwrought as other ensembles may go. Riding home, I put the Handel concerto on the car stereo during the very rainy ride back to Richmond. But it was my Il Giardino Armonico version, not one recorded by the Akademie. It was far more extrovert and the dynamic contrasts were quite extreme. While I like this recording, somehow the one by Akamus was more natural. With good engineering, this ensemble has faired better in recordings with regards to balance. Visually seeing them play noted for me those members who take a lead in communicating expressively to the others (in particular, Mai and Alpermann). I compared my live view of them with the DVD I reviewed recently of Bach's Kunst der Fuge. Same thing - the visual expression of one leader over another has a definite impact on the listening experience, and likely the playing of the ensemble. I've never experienced an ensemble that rotates who this might be mid-performance in a concert! The result isn't consistent. But it's mostly pretty strong.

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