Members of Concerto Koln, the period instrument ensemble based in Cologne, Germany, played with precision and energy Friday night at the Library of Congress despite missing one key ingredient: their concertmaster. Violinist Markus Hoffmann was the latest victim of the increased bureaucracy that can accompany a foreign performer’s request for a U.S. visa. He may be stuck in Germany while the band tours America.
The snag prompted a last-minute programming switch, but replacing a Bach concerto with one by Telemann conveniently bolstered the evening’s overall theme of Bach and his contemporaries.
Music by Evaristo Felice Dall’Abaco never cracked the baroque Top 40, but Concerto Koln made a case for the little-known Italian. The group opened with his Concerto Op. 5, No. 3, a seamless weave of fresh-sounding French and Italian styles. It spotlighted gracefully intertwining solos from the baroque flutes of Cordula Breuer and Martin Sandhoff, the group’s artistic director.
Another Bach contemporary spotlighted was Giovanni Battista Sammartini. Neglected today, Sammartini early on embraced ideas that would push baroque music toward the classical era. His Sinfonia in A provided an ample playground for Concerto Koln’s richly blended strings. Despite a few minor blemishes, the musicians generated surprisingly vivid color while deploying sudden shifts in volume.
Among Vivaldi’s 27 cello concertos, the D Minor Concerto (RV 407) is not particularly memorable, but at least cellist Jan Freiheit’s scrappy, if uneven, performance had character. He transformed Vivaldi’s routine, fast-paced finale into a virtuoso’s romp. With violence in his bow and a grin on his face, Freiheit produced an array of colorful growls.
Two substantial Bach pieces — the Orchestral Suite No. 1 and the Concerto for Oboe d’amore — centered the concert. The success of the suite, a virtual font of exuberance, was fueled by a terrific trio of winds (oboists Susanne Regel and Rodrigo Gutierrez with bassoonist Lorenzo Alpert) that emerged in the dance movements as a sparkling sub-group. The concerto again starred Regel, achingly expressive in the larghetto and instinctively prancing over strings to put the swing in Bach’s allegro.
A touch of brilliance in a Telemann concerto for two instruments seemingly at odds with each other capped the evening. The composer paired an old-fashioned recorder and the newer flute. The two chased each other wildly in the raucous Polish dance, the low strings droning on in a delicious imitation of bagpipes.
After such a satisfying performance, Concerto Koln should promptly be issued a return invitation — and a full set of visas.
Huizenga is a freelance writer.