MUSIC REVIEW: A Note on Philharmonia Baroque, with Julian Wachner & Andreas Scholl

11.14.14
Julian Wachner
Berkeley Daily Planet

By Ken Bullock 

Last weekend saw a very rich musical program at the First Congregational Church, with Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, Julian Wachner conducting, playing Bach, Handel and Telemann, with countertenor Andreas Scholl singing arias from Handel's Giulio Cesara and Rodelinda as well as the Bach Cantata No. 170, "Vernügte Ruh, beliebte Seelenlust." 

Wachner, following his San Francisco Opera debut with Handel's Partenope, which featured countertenor David Daniel, a favorite with Philharmonia Baroque listeners, made his Philharmonia debut with grace and humor, acquitting well the various orchestral pieces--Bach's Sinfonia from Cantata No. 42, Telemann's Concerto in F major for Violin, Oboe & Two Horns, as well as the prodigious First Brandenburg Concerto at the end of the program, which featured a half dozen winds and the violino piccolo. 

Wachner repeatedly brought the audience's attention to the excellent soloists, having horn player R. J. Kelley demonstrate the properties and style of his ancient instrument, different from the modern French horn in many ways, with some comments by Kelley ("There're very few people in the world who have mastered this valveless instrument," said Wachner of Kelley), and led the group in achieving a very bright, upbeat orchestral sound on a beautiful late Fall Sunday afternoon. 

He also commented on the music of both Brandenburg No. 1 and the Telemann Concerto, hoping to erase the possible sense that the more traditional Telemann was chosen merely as foil for the Bach: "It's quite a wonderful piece ... the Bach's still shocking, though!" 

Scholler's singing was brilliant, crystalline, sparkling and pointed, with charm and clarity of tone, and an occasional wistful or plaintive edge, quite different than that famous "melancholy" of Daniel. On the Bach Cantata, he showed a great sense of fluidity and continuity To repeated callbacks by the enthusiastic audience, he gave as encore an affecting rendition of Handel's "Ombra Mai Fu." 

Both singer and conductor are also composers--Wachner a very modern artist, Scholl more modest, known for his music to Deutsche Grammophon audiobooks of Hans Christian Andersen stories. 

It was a wonderful match of orchestra, guest conductor and guest artist, a satisfying afternoon.