The Berlin Academy for Ancient Music are an ensemble of musicians who play period instruments—and very well, too. They were founded in 1980 and consist of, I quote, ''young musicians from well-known Berlin orchestras'' who work ''in consultation with musical scholars, instrument experts and restorers of historic instruments...''. If this largely satisfactory programme is anything to go by then we may look forward to future projects by these Berlin academicians. The star performance here is Telemann's unfailingly entertaining French Overture and burlesque Suite, Don Quichotte. The music, which acted as an elaborate preface to Telemann's little opera, Don Quichotte auf der Hochzeit des Camacho ( ''Don Quixote at Camacho's Wedding''), dates from 1761 when Telemann was 80 years old.
The Overture and Suite is scored for string band and provides a group of vignettes of Don Quixote and his larger-than-life squire, Sancho Panza. The performance brings the dramatics personae to life in a vivid and witty manner, only just avoiding, at times, a temptation to play to the gallery. The Overture itself is played crisply and with all repeats, and succeeds in capturing something of the capricious natures of Rosinante, the scrawny creature that Quixote is proud to call a horse, and Sancho's donkey. The most vivid picture of the limp and contrary athletics of these beasts, however, is kept in reserve for their respective 'Galopes' later in the Suite. They are played in a masterly fashion with a commendable eye for detail; note, for example, the mischievous rhythmic irregularity highlighting the unpredictable nature of Rosinante, and the startling mulish outbursts on the viola illustrative of Sancho's protesting donkey. Amongst many other features of this performance which I enjoyed were Quixote's awakening, which contains some stylish embellishments from the first violin, his vigorous attack on the windmills, the emphatic grounding of Sancho Panza when being tossed in a blanket, and the vivid juxtaposition of sighing phrases with rapid heartbeating as Quixote reflects on the mistress of his heart, the
The Blavet Concerto is the same work as that recorded by Cologne Musica Antiqua on Archiv Produktion (2534 010, 8/83—nla); I have enjoyed both performances but prefer the more reticent balance given to the harpsichord in this new version which, incidentally, uses a tenor viol rather than a cello as its bowed-string continuo instrument. Both groups adopt similar tempos to one another. The Geminiani Concerto is a fine one with an interesting chromatically orientated four-part fugue as its second movement; and, as elsewhere in Geminiani's Op. 3, the concertino group incorporates a viola with the more usual two violins and cello. The Berlin players extract plenty of resonant sounds from the textures as well as capturing some of the music's individuality.
After what I've said about Telemann's Don Quichotte it is both curious and sad to report that the Flute and Recorder Concerto came as something of a disappointment. The playing is fine but I could find little of the imaginative flair which characterizes the other works in this programme. Part of the problem is that there seems to be little relief from a dynamic forte and that is precisely what is not required in either the first or third movements; nor did I care for the laboured articulation of the opening phrase of the second movement ritornello. These matters apart, I found plenty both to enjoy and admire in the playing of this basically one-to-a-part ensemble. Strongly recommended for the Telemann Don Quichotte. Good recorded sound, though at times it sounds bottom-heavy and may require a small adjustment.'