Celebrating the end of this year's Easter Weekend, this concert took place from the festival hall of the German city of Viersen on Easter Monday. Given the popularity of the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra, the hall's capacity of about 700 seats would surely have been sold out in pre-pandemic times. As it is, even though the musicians played to an empty hall, due to the livestream the potential viewership should well be much larger. The programme was entitled Tempesta di Mare and contained selections, which definitely fit the easy listening Baroque hits category: Handel's three Water Music suites, led by Leila Schayegh, interspersed with works by Geminiani, Vivaldi and Telemann, featuring recorder virtuoso Maurice Steger as soloist and conductor.

Maurice Steger and the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra
© Alessio Nocita

The handsome Viersen Festival Hall, dating back to 1913, is known for its lively acoustics. With microphones placed to conform with Covid-regulated distanced seating, the acoustics were heightened, giving the impression of a large church-like setting. Not a negative commentary, far from it, just an observation of what space – or it is the sound technicians' knob-twiddling – can achieve for the online experience. Although the overall quality of the stream was excellent, the occasional fast, visual sweeps of the camera were quite disturbing, like watching a runaway train while listening to placid, Baroque melodies.

The concert's aqueous title referred not only to Vivaldi's work of the same name but generally alluded to water's life-giving qualities, a favourite in spring when water imbues new life to dormant nature. The concert started with Handel's First Suite from his Water Music. These suites are such repertoire favourites, most lovers of Baroque music can surely hum along. Even so, the three suites are quite different in expression, although all convey an upbeat, juicy, love of life. No. 2 in D major is probably best known for its trumpets and horns setting the tone, with a powerful, sonorous sound reigning elsewhere. Then there is the F major suite, with its famous horn number. And from the D major suite, it's the first movement where the trumpets and horns have a dialogue that stands out. The Freiburg Baroque Orchestra is fortunate to have excellent individual musicians, all soloists in their own right. Swiss-born Leila Schayegh made her debut with the orchestra as leader and her vivacious and sophisticated interpretation spurred the players to give their best, too. The result was a focused, highly listenable whole.

Maurice Steger and the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra
© Alessio Nocito

Maurice Steger took centre stage with his recorder and as conductor for the first time with the orchestra. He brought three pieces, concertos by Geminiani, Vivaldi (La tempesta di mare) and Telemann, all of which gave Steger plenty of opportunities to show off his brilliant technique, like rolling out a string of fine pearls. He has the ability to convey effortlessness in the most dynamic passages, letting each note stand on its own while never losing the compositional and musical whole. Yet he also gave lyrical moments enough space to radiate great calm. It is live-streamed performances like these, which are currently contributing to the growth of Baroque music lovers.

This performance was reviewed from the QChamberstream live video stream