Monday 7 April 2008

Bernada Fink and Freiburg Baroque Orchestra

Is it the Barbican which has bad luck, or is it me? Thomas Quasthoff was ill, so Saturday's concert at the Barbican had to be re-designed. In the event Bernada Fink sang 2 Bach cantatas and the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra played Bach's Concerto for Violin and Oboe and his Suite No. 2

Fink and the ensemble opened with the cantata "Geist und Seele wird verwirret" BWV 35. Bach's cantatas make slightly odd concert works. They are, admittedly, wonderful works but they are designed for liturgical use. Handel's cantatas were generally written for concert performance and as such have a structural design which reflects this, including usually some sort of rousing finale. Bach has no need, nor interest, in rousing finales as his aims are all related to the sacred aspects of the text. This means that with BWV 35 and with BWV 170, the conclusion of the cantata was a little down beat.

Fink was an admirable soloist, firm of voice, generous and warm of tone, clear expressive German and she was accompanied sympathetically by the conductorless Freiburg group.

The group make a virtue of collegiality, but this does not always pay complete dividends. The performance of Bach's Suite No. 2 included some lovely sprung rhythms and infectious tempi; but I would have liked the flute to be a little more spot-lit. Too often he shadowed the 1st violins in a way which was rather too discreet for my taste. Only in the final movement, the Badinerie, did he come into the spotlight.

The second half opened with the Sinfonia from BWV 209. This was followed by the Concerto for Violin and Oboe with Anne Katharina Schreiber violin and Katharina Arfken oboe, both regular members of the ensemble. Again the issues of collegiality came to the fore. Schreiber's solo violin line, though supremely played, was just a little too discreet. Arfken's admirable oboe tone cut through the textures and was radiantly in charge, but Schreiber seem to play 2nd fiddle rather than the pair being equals. Perhaps I am too attuned to hearing this music on modern instruments and the fault lies not with the players but with my ears.

Fink returned for the final scheduled item, Cantata BWV 170, in another fine performance. Such was the audience enthusiasm that she returned for an encore.

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