At five in the afternoon on 19th April, the "original instrument" Dresden Festival Orchestra, 50 members strong and led by talented newcomer Johannes Klumpp, stepped onto the Teatro Mayor stage and transformed conventional notions of what Brahms, Schumann and Schubert are all about. It provided an "original instrument" moment for me as vivid as any I had experienced when I first heard Nikolaus Harnoncourt's recordings 50 years ago and realized how closely authentic tempo, nuance, color, dynamics and pulse were related to the sounds of the instruments themselves.

Johannes Klumpp © Juan Diego Castillo
Johannes Klumpp
© Juan Diego Castillo

The orchestra that filed on stage seemed of a slightly-reduced size appropriate for a period instrument orchestra – 16 violins, six each of violas and cellos, three double basses, the usual woodwinds – the cellists playing without endpins. The orchestra plays only five or six times a year, mostly at the Dresden Festival, and so this visit to Bogotá was a major adventure which already had them on their toes. The high quality of the players was exceptional, like principal cellist Werner Matzke, who is also principal cello of Concerto Köln and Ton Koopman's Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra, and a member of the Schuppanzigh Quartet.

I was not prepared, however, for the sheer physical impact of the Tragic Overture's first outburst. As the music's broad melodies and mysteries took over from the stormy weather, the Teatro Mayor came alive with the sounds of individual woodwinds. When the music turned towards the sunlight signaled by the gorgeous oboe, the achingly lovely horns on their period instruments sang with lovely subtle colors. By the time the big second subject tune arced around for its last hearing, the horns' deep, dark sound and the shattering timpani led to an appropriately tragic final surge.

From the moment Jan Vogler and his Strad entered, five bars into Schumann's Cello Concerto, every note moved passionately ahead, spontaneously pulsing with energy, larger than life and yet intimate at the same time, reaching the heart of Schumann's eternal dichotomy. Vogler took risks at every key junction. His triplets were unusually crisp. And the balances he struck with the the orchestra were uncanny – especially considering he was not playing with the gut strings the orchestra was playing with but with modern steel strings. He had been playing the first Saint-Saëns concerto a few nights before in Germany, would play the Brahms Double Concerto the next night in Bogotá with the modern instrument Antwerp Symphony Orchestra and the very modern violinist Ray Chen, and then continue on to Florida to play Saint-Saëns again. Under these grueling circumstances it would have been unfair to his cello to make the change for just one concert.

Dresdner Festspielorchester © Juan Diego Castillo
Dresdner Festspielorchester
© Juan Diego Castillo

No problem. Vogler's tone may have seemed wiry at first in comparison to the orchestra but almost immediately he adjusted his tone production so that the difference became virtually unnoticeable. His duet with Matzke in the slow movement was magical, and Vogler's own slow double stops were things of beauty. Everyone took the right speed for the finale which meant hellishly difficult for Vogler who nailed the notorious dotted eighth notes and sang out his reminiscences of the concerto's opening theme with moving inner feeling, and they all ended in a headlong scramble which had the audience on its feet cheering.

As an encore, Vogler played the first movement of Bach's Suite in C major BWV 1009, reflecting Schumann's deep connection to Bach, whose music had lifted him out of depression; in fact, Schumann even wrote a piano part for all six of Bach's Cello Suites. And so Vogler, ever mindful of such connections, played it not as original instrument Bach but gently, sweetly Schumannesque, flowing masterfully with little improvised touches making it truly a once-in-a-lifetime performance.

After impressively opening with the Brahms, and successfully helping the assembled forces navigate the Schumann, Klumpp and the Orchestra took a refreshingly young and light-hearted approach – like Schubert – to the Unfinished Symphony. The speed for the first movement was swift and exhilarating, the woodwinds were superb, and the strings sang The Big Theme simply, lyrically – like Schubert. And as the slow movement died away, the audience gave the silence at the end a few extra seconds of shimmer before they started to rapturously applaud.

*****