The energetic Holland Baroque Society presented a lively program juxtaposing works of Johann Joseph Fux and Johann Sebastian Bach this week. Evident from the start was the group’s overarching enthusiasm and passion for this particular repertoire. The atmosphere reflected the musicians onstage, full of youth and infused with a breath of new life. Led by a strong and vibrant Tineke Steenbrink on the organ and the harpsichord, the group of fifteen musicians was clearly in good hands.
The fluidity of the first half of the evening’s program had a real sense of decisiveness and poise. Presented without applause, each work moved effortlessly into the next, marking a clear distinction in style yet still drawing connections between Fux and Bach by their sheer juxtaposition. Opening with Fux’s rendition of Ave Maria with the entire ensemble, the texture was immediately broken down to just two voices with the next work by Bach, a canon from The Art of the Fugue. Violin and bassoon were the only two voices to be heard as the ensemble took their seats at the back of the stage, making the breathless transition an equal part of the performance. Gradually, the instrumentation was beautifully added to, with a third and then a fourth voice in two sonatas by Fux from his Il Fonte della Salute. By growing the number of participants in this way, the addition of the tutti ensemble for Bach’s Ricercar a 6 from The Musical Offering was a welcome release.
The bassoonist Sergio Azzolini, who arranged many of the works on this program for his instrument, was originally meant to play this series of concerts. However, due to last minute doctor’s advice not to take the stage, the courageous young Japanese bassoonist Yukiko Murakami filled in with the utmost grace. The program was gargantuan for the instrument and demanded much in the way of technicality and presence. Murakami offered a beautiful, blended sound to the ensemble and was a pleasure to witness on stage.
The second half of the concert began with a reconstruction of two Bach works (BWV 42 and BWV 249) by Azzolini into a concerto for two oboes, bassoon, strings and basso continuo. The sensitive yet humorous touch of the two oboes brought wide grins from those who are familiar with this sonority. Cleverly executed by Robert de Bree and Hanna Lindeijer, the middle movement (Adagio) showed the two in the spotlight exchanging supple phrases with the utmost of heart.
The following (and last) two works of the night by Fux were surprising not only in their compositionality but also in the choice of sonority. Dasa Valentova took up the violino piccolo with ease and a smile during the Rondeau including bassoon as a counter-voice. The strange combination turned out to be quite pleasing to the ear. Equally charming was the “choir” of violins supporting the efforts of their colleague up in the high register, each exchanging knowing and supportive glances.
Rounding out the program, Fux’s suite Le dolcezze e l’amerezze della notte brought the night to a climactic and energetic end. I felt that the entire ensemble was brought into full force during this work, showing just how “big” a Baroque ensemble can sound when handled with the right combination of instruments and people. It’s happily surprising to witness a group so specialized and in tune with its surroundings and concept of style.