Getting a seat wasn’t easy. Seemed everybody and his brother had turned out to hear the Zurich Chamber Orchestra (ZKO) perform its “Journey through the Baroque” in the city’s gracious Predigerkirche. Every single pew in the church was filled. As Music Director of the ZKO, violinist Daniel Hope has a reputation for enlivening old music, which brings out crowds in generous numbers.

Daniel Hope © Harald Hoffmann | DG
Daniel Hope
© Harald Hoffmann | DG
The programme’s first half included both double concerti and a sonata for two violins, a logical choice, since concertmaster Willi Zimmermann, too, is highly gifted with his instrument. In Georg Philipp Telemann’s Concerto, TWV 52, Hope bent and wound around his sound, tapped his patent leather black shoes, and, in the last movement, categorically let loose in both volume and tempo. Zimmermann, by contrast, stayed upright and sovereign, holding his own with clear musical markings. Both musicians were demonstrative, but used entirely different tactics. 

Antonio Vivaldi’s Concerto for two violins, RV 522 repeated the same model between the principals, except that its last movement gave Hope his first real chance to give us “ferocious”. Granted, he keeps up eye contact with the other players, but in such spirited play, even Vivaldi takes on a somewhat off-the-cuff and gypsy-like sensation. Indeed, the orchestra’s string player closest to me once parked her instrument on her hip momentarily much like the casual gesture of a mother and her heavy baby.  

In the Telemann Violin Concerto in A minor, TWV 51, played next, the principals had the generous support by the theorbo (Emanuele Forni) and cello (Nicola Mosca), who worked closely with the two violins to make a fairyland of tinkling tones. Towards the end, the cello drove the piece on as if from inside a wasp’s nest. Before the break, Vivaldi’s La Follia was a piece contemporaries often called “crazy”, a piece that showed the composer “as if he’d lost his senses”. But it gave Hope the chance again: in virtuoso playing, his bow was like a knife cutting through water, his fingering like something that could give a sewing machine competition.

The second half of the programme included a several short pieces by lesser- known composers, the ill-fated tippler, Nicola Matteis, among them. Having emigrated from the Continent, he died of liver cirrhosis in England at aged 24. I found his piece for six players less than a “mature”, though, its same repetitive patterns largely uninspired. The highly prolific Johann Paul von Westhoff fared much better, however, and the second of the three von Westhoff pieces performed, Imitation of the Bells, gave soloist Hope the chance to generate a truly angelic voice in his upper range.

While in service of the Sun King, Louis XIV of France, von Westhoff was also commissioned to commemorate the “glorious victory” of war. In the mad pace of the La Guerra sonata, Hope had to play tightly; his shoulder raised, elbow working close to the body; it was the orchestration of the cello and baroque guitar that nicely rounded out the expression.

For me, the highlight of the evening was the famous Bach Concerto in D minor for two violins, BWV1043. Hope and Zimmermann made the fist movement more full-bodied than precious, and Zimmermann’s line in the Largo was superbly sinuous, even as he audibly cued the other players with his breathing. The others alternated handsomely between playful joyousness and a full range of Bach’s changing dynamics and colours. A keenly astute Contrabass Seon-Deok Baik, bent into her instrument with what seemed sweet affection, and her high flourish after the last note was like an appreciative nod when leaving a rich table.

The evening’s programme concluded with Vivaldi’s furious L’estate, which more or less brings out everything but the kitchen sink. While it might be a signature piece for Hope, that was tough on me after the Bach. The adage “less is more” may counter the opulence of the Baroque, but flashiness goes just so far. On the other hand, as musical director of the ZKO, Hope’s intention to bring music to a wider public has found its mark here. While there were no youngsters in this audience; the programme showed a generous hand at making an entirely upbeat musical experience. In that vein, it was nothing less than a gracious act.