The expectations were high in Barcelona: the Akademie für Alte Musik playing Bach’s Orchestral Suites and Brandenburg Concertos. Moreover, it was the second and final parts of the integral of Suites and Brandenburg Concertos they had started last year in the same hall. That concert was fine, so the audience might naturally have expected a performance of similar standards.

Bernhard Forck © Adam Walanus
Bernhard Forck
© Adam Walanus

An evident synchronization mistake between the players right at the beginning of the concert led to a serious amount of problems of tuning and tempi in the metals during the first bars of Brandenburg no. 1. After this, it seemed that the performers lost their self-confidence, playing with evident insecurity. The imprecise conducting of concertino Bernhard Forck did not help musicians to find their way through one of Bach’s more well-known scores. He played looking at the stalls, not to the rest of the group. That in itself is probably not a problem, as this work is part of the core repertoire of AKAMUS. But when in encountering difficulty, as it was in this case, it seemed that the musicians were not able to understand Forck’s indications. Only at the “Polacca”, about 17 minutes after the concert started, could we listen to the AKAMUS’ nice sound.

The start was disappointing, but fortunately, there were several good moments later in the concert. The impressive interpretation of Clemens Flick (harpsichord) and Christoph Huntgeburth (flute) as soloists should certainly be mentioned. The first gave us an unforgettable cadenza in the “Adagio” of Brandenburg Concerto no. 3. Bach just wrote two chords for this movement, forming a Phrygian cadence. Some orchestras just play these chords with some ornamentation, while others include a movement of other similar works. In this case, AKAMUS decided just to remain silent while the harpsichordist played for some magical minutes. It was a great gift for the attendees.

The first part finished with the Second Orchestral Suite, with an outstanding interpretation by Huntgeburth. However, the tempi and the phrasing of the orchestra did not help the flautist to find the proper moments to breathe. This part would have improved with a little bit slower tempo, which would have given the soloist the opportunity to find a better sound.

After the interval came Brandenburg no. 6. The instrumentation specified by Bach for this concert (just two violas, two violas da gamba, cello, harpsichord and double bass) did not help in a two-thousand seat hall. So it is perfectly understandable that it sounded a little bit too soft. It is something every period orchestra must deal with, not only in L’Auditori de Barcelona. The big problem with this concert was that the two violas needed to truly play as soloists. They have all the responsibility to make it sound great, but in this case they were not always in tune. Consequently, it was really difficult to appreciate Bach’s music.

During the last twenty minutes we finally could enjoy the sound that has made AKAMUS great, the Fourth Suite being proficient. Unfortunately, after such a concert it is difficult to appreciate the beauty of an interpretation, and it sounded quite monotone – lacking the rich, delightful rhythms and contrasts you expect to find in one of the most joyful secular scores Bach ever wrote.