Music associated with the eighteenth-century Dresden court was the theme of Thursday's excellent concert by the European Union Baroque orchestra under the leadership of the violinist Gottfried von der Goltz. They presented an illuminating programme consisting of orchestral works by influential but lesser known Baroque composers such as Zelenka, Pisendel and Telemann who still largely remain in the shadow of Bach and Handel. But perhaps the programme seemed too much of specialist interest for some – whatever the reason, the concert was poorly attended which was a shame because the young musicians performed with brilliance and vibrancy and deserved a larger audience.

Eubo with Gottfried von der Goltz
Eubo with Gottfried von der Goltz

European Union Baroque Orchestra, Culture Ambassadors to the EU, is an elite group of young baroque players from around the EU. The members are auditioned each year and the orchestra runs from July to December with four projects resulting in concert tours. This year’s members come from 17 countries. There are two projects with the Musical Director Lars Ulrik Mortensen and two with guest directors – this project with Gottfried von der Goltz (Artistic Director of Freiburg Baroque Orchestra) and the November project with the Italian violinist Stefano Montanari.

The concert opened with Zelenka's Ouverture in F major. Jan Dimas Zelenka (1679-1745) served the Dresden court for over 30 years and is largely known for his church compositions but this suite showed that he was a outstanding composer of instrumental works too. The work opened with a solemn three-part French-style overture (with a fugue), followed by four dance movements including a pair of minuets and a siciliano, Zelenka's use of bold dissonances and dramatic shifts between major and minor was aptly highlighted in the performance.

Even lesser known, Johann Georg Pisendel (1687-1745) was the concertmaster of the renowned Dresden court orchestra and his violin concertos display his virtuosity as a performer. He studied with Vivaldi and formed a close friendship, so it is not surprising his Violin Concerto in D major (brilliantly played by Gottfried von der Goltz) shows influences of Vivaldi especially in the solo passages – yet the general mood is more in the newer galant style. Next came his Imitation des Caractères de la Danse, a short and entertaining whirlwind survey of various baroque dances including Canarie (a dance from the Carary Islands) and Polonois (a Polish-style dance). This is repertoire that von der Goltz has explored with his Freiburg Baroque Orchestra and he definitely succeeded in getting the young musicians familiar with this musical language and style.

The second half featured music by Vivaldi and Telemann who were not Dresden musicians but had strong connections with the court. Vivaldi composed works for the court orchestra and the Oboe Concerto in F major (RV455) “Sassonia” is thought to have been performed there. The highly virtuosic solo part was performed by oboist Clara Geuchen from Germany who gave a spirited performance. Technically there was room for improvement but she is a fine musician and ensemble player. The orchestra gave warm support and they created a magical moment in the second movement when only the back desks of the strings accompanied the oboe solo with intimacy.

The oboe concerto was framed by the orchestral pieces from Telemann’s third set of Tafelmusik. Following the substantial Overture performed by the resonant strings, the Suite consisted of six entertaining dance movements with many attractive soloistic passages – the upbeat Allegresse movement featured two solo violins in dialogue (von der Goltz and concertmaster Lorea Aranzasti Pardo) and the Badinage had a nice part for bassoon, as well as a lively interplay between two oboes and two violins. The concert concluded with Furioso from the same work, and as an encore they offered Musette & Harlequinade from another of orchestral suites by Telemann (TWV55: g1)

The quality of playing of the EUBO was outstanding and they can easily stand in comparison with many established baroque ensembles. It was especially interesting that the strings reminded me of the Freiburg Baroque sound, which suggests that the young players had been very receptive to the playing style of the von der Goltz. I wonder how they would sound in the Italian baroque repertoire in their November concert under the leadership of a very different violinist Stefano Montanari which they do in November in London before touring to Italy, Luxembourg and Poland. Do catch them if they are playing near you!