Every couple of years, the Boston Early Music Festival is anchored by an invariably spectacular opera production that's thoroughly researched, lavishly staged and brilliantly performed. And one of the highlights during the festival is the one night that the virtuosos of the opera orchestra leave the opera pit and take the stage at Jordan Hall — a gorgeous and acoustically perfect landmark — for an instrumental concert. It's a sort of break from routine that refreshes and re-energizes both the performers and the audience.
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Performed by the Boston Early Music Festival Chamber Ensemble
Robert Mealy, leader & 1st violin
Kristian Bezuidenhout, harpsichord
Paul O'Dette, theorbo & mandolino
Boston Early Music Festival
The Boston Early Music Festival Chamber Ensemble performs at the 2009 festival. The group loves to uncover little-heard compositions by overlooked composers.
The Boston Early Music Festival Chamber Ensemble performs at the 2009 festival. The group loves to uncover little-heard compositions by overlooked composers. Boston Early Music Festival
For the 2009 festival, those instrumentalists performed this program of baroque German works, ideally suited for an ensemble with one person to a part.
"You can either look at it as a pocket orchestra or as a large-scale chamber-music enterprise," violinist and leader Robert Mealy says. But either way, the results are electric.
This concert, which could have been loosely titled "Bach and Associates," included a gangbusters performance of J.S. Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 5, with the finger-twisting harpsichord part handled by a festival favorite, Kristian Bezuidenhout. Apparently, the other players were only momentarily caught off guard at the first rehearsal when Bezuidenhout said, "Oh, this sounds so pedestrian! We really have to play it like it's supposed to be played!" and proceeded to take off at a wildly quick tempo.
Typical of the festival's penchant for uncovering under-appreciated pieces, there's the oddly titled "Overture Hipochondrie" ("Hypochondria") by a friend of Bach's named Jan Dismas Zelenka. Mealy hears the title reflected in some "slightly queasy" shifts in harmony throughout the music.
Finally, a trio of superb oboists, including Gonzalo X. Ruiz, Kathryn Montoya and Debra Nagy, bring a swaggering style to Johann Friedrich Fasch's Overture in G minor, showing why this one-time candidate for Bach's job at the St. Thomas Church in Leipzig was ultimately best known for his writing for wind instruments.
For these players, once the concert was over, it was back to the opera house for Monteverdi's L'Incoranazione di Poppea. Those performances may have been just a bit more riveting after this bracing splash of baroque instrumental music.