Madrid, October 31st 2014. Doors are opened at the Auditorio Nacional, the home of the Orquesta Nacional de España‘s headquarters – today, the “Devil’s house”. On the stage, the Baroque Ensemble of the ONE conducted by Giovanni Antonini, with soloists Dmitry Sinkovsky (violin), Víctor Manuel Ánchel, and Robert Silla (oboes). And it is not by chance that the works on their music stands are somehow inspired by horrific or supernatural events.

Giovanni Antonini © Uwe Arens
Giovanni Antonini
© Uwe Arens

The Baroque Ensemble, consisting of musicians from the orchestra, was founded in 2013 with the objective of performing Baroque and Classical compositions following criteria of the historically informed performance. In spite of these pretensions, the ensemble does not use period instruments nor does it employ Baroque techniques. Furthermore, some inconsistencies could be found in the concert: while the French horn players used natural horns, the performers in the string section, the oboists and the bassoonist used modern instruments (neither the bows were Baroque nor the bassoon had something to do with a dulcian). However Antonini, one of those conductors who lead the orchestra with his whole body, has managed to create a recognizable “Baroque sound”, thus demonstrating that historically informed performance is just one of the possibilities the performer can choose.

Francisco Maria Veracini was admired as a violinist, a kind of virtuoso frequently associated with supernatural phenomena. A peripatetic musician, he travelled all around Europe and composed his six Ouvertures for the court of Dresden. The Ouverture no. 6 was the piece that opened the concert, showing from the very beginning the intensity that characterizes Antonini’s performances, as well as the quality of his work with the group. The ensemble reaching a smooth sonority, in spite of the overrepresentation of the cello (a problem that arose frequently  during the concert).

Another violinist, Antonio Vivaldi, was represented with two pieces in the programme. First, the Violin Concerto in D major RV562 “Per la Solennità di San Lorenzo”, was performed by Sinkovsky as soloist. He showed all his electric technical and scenic resources, gaining the applause of the public, doing his best in terms of expressiveness – and speed! However, some of the passages performed by Sinkovsky were clearly out of tune. On the contrary, the interpretation of Vivaldi’s Concerto for oboe, violin and orchestra in G minor  RV576 was worthy of recognition. Oboist Robert Silla delighted with his sweet and pleasant sound, while Antonini himself surprised with his decision to play the recorder and conduct simultaneously (the other recorder was being played by Antonio Arias). One has to recognize that the sensation was quite odd, as Antonini was in front of the orchestra looking at the public while playing and, at the same time, conducting – the orchestra looking at his back and trying to follow his indications. Be that as it may, the final result was memorable and convincing.

But the two most “diabolic” pieces in the program were the Classical ones. Performing Zorrilla’s play Don Juan Tenorio on the night of All Saints’ Day is an old tradition in Spain. On top of that, Boccherini inserted the “Danse des specters et des furies” from Gluck’s ballet Don Juan in his Symphonie in D minor G 506, “La Casa del Diavolo“ (The Devil’s House). Therefore, including such a work in a programme for Hallowe'en seemed to be a good idea. And it was. Antonini has recorded “La Casa del Diavolo” with his group Il giardino armonico. His version of the work with the Baroque Ensemble of the ONE repeated many of the nuances one could perceive in that recording: a ‘Baroque-style’ of performance (separating every note, emphasizing dynamic contrasts over crescendi and diminuendi, etc.), the preference of staccato to spiccato, very fast tempi, and admirable lightness in the second movement. These guaranteed a very personal performance, more Baroque than Classical, but coherent from a musical point of view. The same can be said of Haydn’s Symphony no. 49 in F minor, “La Passione”, a work that shares many Sturm und Drang’s elements with Boccherini’s symphony. But not everything was dark, demoniac or haunted on that night. As an encore, the ensemble with Sinkovsky played the angelical “Adagio” from Telemann’s Concerto grosso in B flat minor, making the audience recall Haydn’s The Creation) and think: “… there was light!”