Allegro Tuesday, Oct. 7, The Met
Allegro opened its season Tuesday with a concert featuring enough musical characters to populate a Hogarth engraving. “Handel’s London” was the title of the concert. But the music was composed by three Germans, an Italian and a Fleming (nary a Brit in sight) - a typical musical cross-section of 18th-century London.
Allegro’s directors - oboist David Dutton and harpsichordist Beverly Biggs - were joined by bassoonist Barbara Novak and guest artists flutist and recorder player Gwyn Roberts and lutenist and theorbist Richard Stone. These players combined historical awareness of the styles of music heard in Georgian London with a lively delight in showing off their virtuosity.
The evening’s composers included John (formerly Jean Baptiste) Loeillet, Frances co Maria Veracini, Sylvius Leopold Weiss, John Christian (formerly Johann Christian) Bach and the greatest of them all, George Frideric (formerly Georg Frederick) Handel. Only the young Bach did not quite belong in this company; he moved to London after Handel’s death.
Biggs played one of the numerous sonatas J.C. Bach wrote for Queen Charlotte and children. In 10 minutes this little sonata demonstrated the change of style away from the intensity and sophisticated technique of Bach’s father, Johann Sebastian, and of Handel better than a year of music history lessons.
Of all the players on Tuesday’s concert, the one I longed to hear more from was Stone. His virtuosity was exceptional. But only one work, Sylvius Leopold Weiss’ Concert for Lute and Transverse Flute, allowed Stone to show what he could really do. This piece, long-known to lute players in incomplete form, was performed Tuesday for the first time since the 18th century in Stone’s newly reconstructed version. It sounded absolutely convincing, and wonderfully played. Perhaps Allegro can coax a solo recital from Stone in some future season.
Allegro’s concerts use a mixture of the modern form of some instruments (the oboe and bassoon) and the older form of others (recorder and transvere flutes, lute and theorbo, and harpsichord). That’s a two-edged sword. The greater dependability in pitch accuracy of the modern wind instruments makes painfully obvious the tendency of the recorder and early transvere flute to slip flat in the lower register and in soft passages. And modern instruments simply play louder than their 18th-century counterparts, making balance a tricky issue - one not always successfully addressed in Tuesday’s Allegro performances.
Still, the concert gave a rare glimpse into the variety of chamber music from the London scene that furnished us with Handel’s familiar oratorios and concertos. , DataTimes