Review: Helsinki Baroque Orchestra at Library of Congress

By Charles T. Downey
Monday, November 1, 2010

On Saturday evening, concertgoers skirted rallygoers to hear the latest at the Library of Congress. In honor of the birthday of Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, the institution's beloved patron of music, members of the Helsinki Baroque Orchestra performed music of Bach and his lesser-known contemporaries Dietrich Buxtehude, Franz Tunder and Andreas Kirchoff. The last three were connected because a Swedish kapellmeister named Gustav Düben copied their music into a manuscript collection now at the Uppsala University Library.

Countertenor Teppo Lampela displayed a broad vocal range, most effective at shifting down into the baritone register and less assured at the top. The tone was pretty, and he added some striking ornaments and expressive nuances while maintaining admirable clarity and agility in the rapid passages, as in Kaspar Förster's gorgeous "Laudate dominum omnes gentes." Paired violinists Minna Kangas and Tuomo Suni took up the singer's motifs and traded them back and forth, often engaged in smiling one-upmanship while embellishing their lines.

Artistic director Aapo Häkkinen anchored the ensemble from the harpsichord, providing a solid rhythmic foundation with his dynamic continuo realization. His solo turn in a performance of Bach's "Italian Concerto," which was not note-perfect but had flair, included a beautifully executed second movement, with the accompaniment on a lute stop and the melody on a normal registration. The fragile tone of lead viola da gamba player Mikko Perkola, so delicate as to be non-present at times, undermined some of the interesting pieces that featured two gamba parts. The other gamba player, Varpu Haavisto, had a stronger melodic presence in Bach's aria "Wie starb die Heldin so vergnügt."

Downey is a freelance writer.

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