I've always had a soft spot for the forgotten instruments – those middle instruments that provide the harmonic filling, the neglected instruments of the past, the less glamorous showboaters. Take the harpsichord and oboe d'amore, for instance. Both enjoyed illustrious careers in the 18th century, but disappeared completely in the 19th, only to reappear in the 20th century in compositions from the likes of Richard Strauss, Ravel, Poulenc, Dutilleux and Elliott Carter and as part of the resurgence of historically informed performances using period instruments.

The Academy of Ancient Music © Marco Borggreve
The Academy of Ancient Music
© Marco Borggreve

Fortunately, the Academy of Ancient Music featured both of these instruments prominently in a wonderfully varied programme of Italian-style Baroque concertos, themed around Bach and the influences of Italian music from composers he admired, allowing them to share the limelight with two other 18th century favourites, the violin and the oboe.

Opening with Bach's Oboe d'Amore Concerto in D major, BWV1053R, Frank de Bruine showed off the warm and mellow tones of the oboe d'amore, an instrument falling somewhere between the oboe and cor anglais, with pride and affection and an almost regal sound that revealed nice subtleties. De Bruine masterfully wove the complex contours of the elaborate melodic lines with ease, in keeping with the vocal style of the music, with the AAM strings and harpsichord continuo providing light and crisp accompaniment with characteristic care and precision. His playing of both this instrument and of the Baroque oboe in the other concertos had a lovely singing quality, which became flighty and skittish in the brisker passages. De Bruine was wonderfully mellifluous in Albinoni's Oboe Concerto in D minor, Op.9 no. 2, with the strings busy but not imposing, although their enthusiasm did take them almost to the brink of overpowering the soloist on occasions. Marcello's Oboe Concerto in D minor had de Bruine brandishing his dexterous oboe technique with determination, producing a robust and convincing performance. But the highlights in all these concertos were the slow movements – breathtaking laments, long heavenly melodic lines, and gently pulsating strings carefully crafted and perfectly controlled, with a purity of sound that simply floated through the air.

However, the oboe family was only half the story in this fascinating exploration of the rites of passage of the Italian concerto. A prolific writer for the violin, Vivaldi was represented by two concertos, his Violin Concerto in G minor, RV 316a, and the Concerto in A minor for Two Violins, RV 522. Violinist Bojan Čičić showcased Vivaldi's music in fine dramatic style, with crisp and precise playing, well judged ornamentations and a meditative quality in the slow movements. Čičić joined forces with Rebecca Livermore in a spirited performance of the Double Violin Concerto, which saw a symbiotic relationship between soloists and ensemble, phrases passed to and fro with panache and a fair smattering of vivacity and icy drama.

Alastair Ross provided the fourth solo instrument in the programme, performing Bach's Italian Concerto, BWV971 for solo harpsichord on a two manual harpsichord. Ross instantly captured the warmth of the instrument and clearly showed how the contrasting features of the two keyboards (one loud, one soft) reflected the Italian concerto style by accentuating the distinction between the solo voice and the 'ensemble'. He demonstrated metrical precision and had a deft touch when articulating individual lines, taking care to shape the movements to create ebb and flow in the slow movement and an uplifting feel in the outer movements.

To round things off in this richly rewarding snapshot of Bach and the Italian Concerto, de Bruine and the AAM performed, as an encore, the Sinfonia from Bach's Cantata No. 12.