Freiburg Baroque Orchestra - About Baroque
The phenomenon of early instruments being used by contemporary composers is familiar enough, but a period orchestra? Supported by the Siemens Arts Programme, the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra commissioned five composers (all under 40) to write new works, and the very fine live recordings are documented on this intriguing set.
The five pieces are strongly diversified in approach, but for the most part the references to Baroque or early orchestral stylistics are allusive rather than overt. Each composer uses a different instrumentation, and in two cases at least (Benjamin Schweitzer’s flekkicht and Nadir Vassena’s Bagatelle transcendentali) there is the suggestion of a concerto for one of the continuo instruments (respectively, lute and harpsichord). The virtuosity of Baroque strings is evoked most strongly in Michel van der Aa’s Imprint: here the characteristic sonority of oboes doubling violins is pleasingly evocative.
One wonders to what extent the five composers may have agreed on a very few shared materials: regularly repeated notes and ostinati also figure prominently, especially in the pieces by the three male composers, while more fleeting sonorities are evoked in Juliane Klein’s …und folge mir nach. There is in all these pieces a tendency to break up abstract agglomerations of sounds with rhythmic ideas more reminiscent of Baroque figurations, but these stylistic “spanners in the works” are not always convincing. That said, the task of re-interpreting orchestral effects through the medium of a relatively small-scale band whose individual timbres are particularly differentiated is approached with considerable finesse. From this standpoint, Rebecca Saunders’s rubricare is particularly successful. Formally very lucid, the piece balances its sections very effectively (the initial material seems knowingly to overstay its welcome) and stages some of the disc’s most memorable moments, notably a chorus of quadruple-stop pizzicati that sounds like outsize crickets, and the gradual saturation of the texture by the chamber organ, whose cluster-like chord concludes the work.
The presentation is generous but some of the programme notes could have done with pruning, and the “interview” between Vassena and one Ludwig van Beethoven (written, one must add, by a third party) one could have done without altogether.