Mozart Monday might have been the idea behind last night’s concert. And if there were anything to make this an even more marvellous start to the week it was the joining of the scintillating forces of the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra with the mighty baritone Christian Gerhaher. It promised to be a tour de force and it jolly well was.

Freiburg Baroque Orchestra © Marco Borggreve
Freiburg Baroque Orchestra
© Marco Borggreve
Freiburg Baroque Orchestra © Marco Borggreve
Freiburg Baroque Orchestra
© Marco Borggreve

There were some novel features to the programming. The Linz Symphony was interspersed with arias from Don Giovanni, Così fan tutte and Le nozze de Figaro in between the movements. Custom has made me too accustomed to listening to symphonies as organic wholes and while it was noteworthy to hearken back to an earlier period of concertizing, my preference is to preserve a work's organicism. The second half featured a brief, if entertaining lecture on the clarinet d’amour followed by the Clarinet concerto in A major and a handful more arias.

Right from the start I was struck by two things with the orchestra: firstly, how well each of the members communicated with each other as if it were an intimate chamber music group rather than a 35-person orchestra. Here first violinist and director Gottfried Von der Goltz set the scene; perched on a piano stool, he craned, turned around and with nods and the odd wave of his bow he communicated with the rest of the group. The second aspect that was so impressive was the crisp, energetic sound of this Baroque orchestra. Attacking the opening Allegro of the Linz with vivacity and wit, the FBO rejoiced in the sharply executed rhythms, the Baroque bows creating a pleasant accompanying rat-a-tat-tat. Rhythmic precision was matched equally with exact intonation, particularly impressive among the period woodwind and brass instruments.

It felt wrong to applaud after just one movement, but with the entrance of eminent baritone Christian Gerhaher we were left with no alternative. He launched directly into the aria “Metà di voi qua vadano” from Don Giovanni where the eponymous hero, disguised as his valet, puts the cuckolded Masetto on the wrong track to find the libertine. Entering immediately into character, Gerhaher sang with great clarity of diction, strong projection and intelligent understanding of the context of the aria. This aria demands swift changes of register and dynamics and Gerhaher delivered with seemingly effortless ease. A silkily soft end and we were back to the second movement of the symphony.

Stressing the “con moto” element of the Andante, this siciliano lilted smoothly along. The foray into the minor section midway through took on a more sinister note on the cellos before the rising staccato arpeggios wafted upwards bring the music safely back to the major. There was a robust rusticity to the Minuet third movement while the FBO took the final fourth movement at a crisp pace, the busy semiquavers speeding along, the enjoyment among the orchestra palpable. The rapid speed was no barrier to the intense listening and communication among the FBO, whether it was the antiphonal moments or in the finely graded countermelodies.

Interspersed among these movements were the aria “Non siate ritrosi” from Così fan tutte and the recitative and aria “Tutto è disposto” from Figaro. In the former Gerhaher’s glorious voice captured the humour of the situation while in the latter his powerful decrial of woman’s faithlessness featured pellucid diction delivered at rapid-fire speed.

The second half opened with a most informative account of the clarinet d’amour given by Lorenzo Coppola. The concerto that followed was a softer, more muted rendition than on a modern clarinet and the FBO with great sensitivity lowered their volume so as not to drown Coppola out. I was impressed by the sonorous range of the instrument's lower register while the upper register had a flute-like clarity to it. Coppola displayed great finesse with his rubato particularly around the first movement recapitulation. The soft sonority of this instrument made for a quite magical second movement, the delicate tendrils of melody wafting over the hushed string accompaniment. The last movement showed off the extensive range of this remarkable instrument as it leapt in jocose fashion from low to high, merriment and mischievous lurking in every phrase.

The final three arias gave us a chance to savour Gerhaher’s golden voice once again. Singing about the hilarious exploits of his master Don Giovanni, Gerhaher pulled around the tempo to great effect in describing the libertine’s treatment of blondes, brunettes and the grey-haired ones. The capricious teasing in “Non più andrai” from Figaro was perfectly poised while the fuming of Count Almaviva in “Hai già vinta la causa!” featured powerful singing, brilliant melismas and a fury that was most real.

Two encores of Don Alonso and Don Giovanni rounded off a delightful concert.

****1