Frequently, you can tell how good an orchestra is within the first few minutes of a concert. At Dublin's National Concert Hall, the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin (Akamus) was immediately engaging with its fine and interesting programme of early Classical works by Mozart, Gluck, Haydn and Telemann.

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Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin
© Uwe Arens

Akamus launched into Mozart’s First Symphony, composed when he was only nine years old. I was immediately struck by how lively, nimble and communicative this orchestral group was: sideways glances, nodding heads, supple posture were all hallmarks of their approach. There was the combination of lightness that comes from period instruments with their ability to gracefully zip through semiquavers passages like a nippy race car. The first movement bowled along quite cheerfully, its diatonic harmonies indicative of the composer’s extreme youth. This contrasted with the mature horn melody of the second movement Andante underscored by the rippling triplets. The sinister four-note motif in the minor key on the double bass was very effective. The Presto bubbled over with enthusiasm and excitement before coming to a brief conclusion.

Christina Landshamer, with her fulsome soprano voice, took to the stage with Circe’s recitative and aria from Gluck's Telemaco, ossia L’isola di Circe. Indubitably she possesses a voice of pearly beauty; however at the beginning her voice had not sufficiently opened up so that in the lower registers her voice failed to project over the orchestra. That’s not to say that Akamus was not suitably responsive, quite the contrary. There was terrific excitement in the accompaniment with nervous tremolandos and live-wire responses. It was like having a super-charged stallion which responds at the merest touch.

Haydn’s Symphony no. 28 in A major displayed all the terrific energy that is demanded by the opening Allegro, with lively antiphonal exchanges between the violins, violas and cellos. The Poco adagio is based on two contrasting phrases; one lilting the other march-like. Here Akamus played around with the rhythm: rubatos that were ironic in character, a knowing wink that this is a work which does not take itself too seriously. The third movement Menuetto featured bariolage, a type of machine-gun-like repetition of the same note using different strings; the orchestra attacked this with great vim and vigour. The final movement Presto, with its cheery, lively antiphonal writing, was deftly done and brought the first half to a satisfying end.

The second half featured one of Telemann's most fascinating works, Ino, a dramatic cantata for soprano on a libretto by Karl Ramler, which Telemann composed about two years before his death at the age of 84. It describes how Ino is pursued by Athamas, who is determined to kill her son, Melicertes. Escaping the evil intentions of Athamas, Ino leaps off a cliff into the sea with her son. The Tritons dance and Ino is transformed into the goddess Leukothea and her son into a god.

By this stage Landshamer’s voice had opened up fully and she unfurled the melismas of the opening aria “Ungöttliche Saturnia” with great beauty. Emotionally, Landshamer’s interpretation tended to be restrained. There was no sense of the desperate urgency of Ino’s predicament. This contrasted with the Akamus’ more overtly dramatically approach with its bouncy spiccato and wonderful slurred scales brimming up with good humour. The final aria of “Tönt in meinem Lobgesang” was a lively affair with melismatic notes gliding over busy semiquavers and bringing the concert to a satisfying conclusion.