Don't we all, these days... at least in the form of an iPod? Poor Augustus the Strong and his son Friedrich Augustus II, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, had to transport their whole orchestra, the largest in Europe north of Italy, to his hunting lodge at Moritzburg, for lack of a decent stereo system. But then, they also took their 'virtuosi' with them on imperial 'business trips' to France, Italy, and Austria. Think of the hassles, with all those instrument cases passing through 'security'!
That orchestra in Dresden was so remarkable that it spawned a whole genre of "concerti for Many Instruments" and the favor of its attention so coveted that composers of fame - Vivaldi, Telemann, Albinoni, even Bach - wrote uncommissioned music for it. The members of the orchestra already included some of the best composers of the era: the flautist Quantz, the lutenist Weiss, the violinist Pisandel, the bassist Zelenka, to name a few. The lucky Kapellmeister during the orchestra's Augustan Age was Johann David Heinichen (1683-1729).
If Heinichen's concerti sound at times like Vivaldi and at times like Telemann, it shouldn't be so surprising. The Italian influence that dominated the Hapsburg Court in Vienna certainly extended as far north as Dresden, especially after the Saxon rulers converted to Catholicism in order to 'accept' the royal throne of Poland. The horse trail over the Brenner Pass, from Venice to Vienna to Dresden, was the musical superhighway of Europe from Di Lasso to Mozart and beyond. Heinichen and Telemann were certainly aware of each other's works -- direct competitors, in fact. As you get acquainted with Heinichen, you'll find that he had his own individual flourishes and whimsies. These pieces are almost uniformly festive and ceremonious, robust and jolly. Augustus the Strong and his descendants were not interested in musical "downers"! They had an admirable taste for wind instruments, for which we tootlers of later centuries are profoundly grateful. The 'hunting' horns dominate many of Heinichen's concerti, while the bassoon parts are lush and challenging. This truly is music to carry a modern listener away to an era of sumptuous extravagance, but don't forget: Augustus the Strong had no access to the internet and had to use a chamber pot.
Musica Antiqua Köln, thirty-five musicians strong for this recording, has to be every bit as virtuosic as the original Dresden Orchestra. Certainly they perform this elaborate music with total assurance and polish. Reinhard Goebel, the director, plays viola here rather than violin, since the recording was made during his long recuperation from severe problems in his bowing arm, but the fiddling by Anton Steck and seven others is flawless. Horn players Charles Putnam and Renée Allen prove for once and for all that the valveless baroque horn is just as agile as the modern French horn, and more stirring in timbre. Recorderist Marion Verbruggen adds her sweetest of "flauto dolce" virtuosity to two of the concerti as a relief from all that horny exuberance. Really, the only question remaining is, what did the horn players do during the adagios in that era before crossword puzzles?
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