Academy of Ancient Music vibrant and buoyantAcademy of Ancient Music conducted by Christopher Hogwood; Mechanics Hall, Worcester, March 7.
It is because of musicians like Trevor Pinnock and Christopher Hogwood that early music is currently enjoying a renaissance. Pinnock's English Concert (which performed a sensational concert in Boston earlier this season) and Hogwood's Academy of Ancient Music each have their distinctive sounds -- Pinnock is to adrenalin what Hogwood is to elegance -- but both combine clarity with color to produce a sound of a vibrant buoyancy hard to find elsewhere.
The Academy of Ancient Music started their Worcester concert last night with Bach's Orchestral Suite No. 3. Hogwood perhaps led the ensemble into the Overturea trifle fast, but one was soon taken by the immaculate bowing of the strings, and the beauty of the balance. The Air came across breezily, an unruffable smoothness giving the impression that the sound emanating from the extraordinarily-disciplined orchestra came from one perfect instrument. Was the sound really coming from vibrating gut, or might it be descending from Heaven?
The Gavotte I & II provided an aesthetic of symmetries to dwell on, and a lively Bourr'ee led to a sparkling concluding Gigue.
Bach's Concerto for Two Violins in D minor (to be repeated tonight in Boston) provided pleasures from many directions. The intricacies of orchestral work shone out along with the virtuosities of the soloist: In Hogwood's band, every member is devoted both to the unity of ensemble sound and to displays of enlightened individuality. The interplay of the two soloists -- Catherine Mackintosh and Christopher Hirons -- was particularly delightful; music passed from one to the other effortlessly while the orchestra provided a backdrop of never-failing interest.
The opening of the second movement was particularly beautiful, as was its dreamy development, combining a natural grace with a depth of expression. Mackintosh hit a few infelicities, easily forgiven, though, considering the general excellence of her performance.
The concert ended with a performance of Handel's Water Music in which pleasure lay waiting in every note. The Adagio e staccato and Allegro of the Horn Suite in F showed a metre of lightness and dance, while the Air, played with slightly clipped rhythms, had a lovely humor to it. Horns entered the Menuet for French Horn with a grandeur cemented in the solidity of the orchestral response. The suite ended with a Hornpipe played with delicacy and charm.
Rachel Brown provided a varied and enjoyable solo performance for the Flute Suite in G. The third movement Menuets were particularly uplifting, the dancing colors of flute intertwining with the sharply defined dynamic of tutti. The Hornpipe brought the suite to a lively end.
There are some horribly difficult passages for trumpets and horns in the Trumpet Suite in D, but Hogwood's players brought a brilliance to them that made them sound easy. The sound of horns following trumpets at the opening of the Allegro was powerful, but did not obscure the deliciously gentler effects on strings. The Alla Hornpipe was spirited and spritely, transitions between trumpets, horns and orchatra done to particular delight.
A well-measured Trumpet Menuet led to the lilting Lentement, it's subtle grace and understated grandeur evoking images of royalty taking a splendid cruise on the Thames; one could almost hear the water swishing against the boat...
The Air brought the piece and the concert to an exhilerating conclusion.
The Academy of Ancient Music will be performing in Symphony Hall tonight in a program to include Bach's Concerto for Two Violins in D minor, Bach's Wedding Cantata and Handel's Apollo and Dafne. Given the availability of special discount tickets for MIT students, it would be criminal to miss.
Also of note this weekend is the MIT Concert Band's "pre-party" concert tonight at 8pm in the Wellesley Chapel, MIT Symphony Orchestra concert tomorrow evening at 8:30 pm in Kresge, and the MIT Brass Ensemble's Sunday concert beginning at 3:30 pm in Kresge Auditorium.