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Authentic Performance Soothed the Modern Ears

Hong Kong
Concert Hall, Hong Kong City Hall, Central
03/03/2009 -  
George Frideric Handel: Water Music Suite No. 1
Jean-Philippe Rameau: Suite from Dardanus
Franz Joseph Haydn: Symphony No. 83 in G minor ‘The Hen’

Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra, Ton Koopman (Conductor)

The Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra (© Marco Borggreve)

Concertgoers went to Ton Koopman’s organ recital last Saturday were certainly stunned by his amazing musicality and native understanding of Baroque music. On Tuesday evening, Koopman and the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra offered another superb authentically-informed performance in City Hall.

As the founder of the Amsterdam Baroque orchestra, Mr. Koopman has frequently led his players to many international major concert halls, and recorded many major Baroque and Classical works on various labels. On Tuesday’s Arts Festival event, he chose two Baroque suites and one Classical symphony as the orchestra’s opening performance in 2009 Hong Kong Arts Festival.

Handel’s Water Music, written and performed in 1717, served as entertainment for a royal boating party on the Thames. The 20-person ensemble, with Mr. Koopman conducting from the harpsichord, rendered the first of the suites with chamber-scale intimacy. The delicate dynamic control, exquisite balance, and dainty articulation, together with their period instruments and bows, all evoked the elegance and introversion of the 18th-century British Royalty, although its majesty and grandeur were a little inhibited by their under-wrapped dynamic contrasts.

Mr. Koopman’s native understanding of Baroque language was also convincingly reflected in the next piece. Dardanus (disambiguation) was originally from Greek mythology, transcribed into a five-act opera by French composer Jean-Philippe Rameau. Mr. Koopman and the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra have revived it by assembling a selection of dances from this operatic work. The selected dance movements were overfilled with the musicians’ thoughtful insights by incorporating rural Tambourine rhythms in Entrée pour les guerriers, dramatic string tremolos in Bruit de guerre, and string Sul ponticello in Tambourin Dances.

The second half of the concert was devoted to Haydn’s Symphony No. 83, Then Hen, a nickname given by the Parisian audience at that time because of the detached quavers and mincing ornaments in the first movement. It was, again, a plainspoken, introversive, and elegant account. Although the music’s underlying drama was not fully aroused (partially because of the limitation of the instruments), the orchestra brought to the surface Haydn’s humorous semantics and boundless vitality by its bewitching dynamic range and exquisitely polished articulation. The hen clucking sounded exceptionally wild and savage on their chin-rest-less violins and pin-less cellos. The Menuet was also dispatched with utmost vivacity and light-hearted footsteps. However, the price they paid was the slightly plain and stiff phrasing arc in the slow movement, and frail and feeble climax. Conductor Mr. Koopman authentically observed all the repeats throughout the symphony. But this, together with the orchestra’s monochromic and lackluster intonation, somehow brought extra boredom to the audience attuned to modern interpretations of this masterpiece.

After all, most of the audience responded to their authentic and elegant performance with enthusiastic ovation. The orchestra generously re-delivered excerpts from Water Music and Dardanus as encores.

Danny Kim-Nam Hui



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