The baroque orchestra on Friday was the Academy of Ancient Music, the creation of Christopher Hogwood who died in 2014. It numbered 15, and had played the identical programme in Bury St Edmunds the night before. We commenced with Bach's Concerto for Oboe d'Amore in D major. This oboe is pitched a third below the standard instrument, and never caught on in the 18th century despite Bach having liked and written for it. It occupies sound territory that a hybrid of oboe and clarinet might perhaps fill. Soloist Frank de Bruine played with heart and supple dexterity.
Vivaldi's Concerto for Violin in G Minor had as soloist Bojan Cicic from Croatia. He's the Professor of Baroque Violin at the Royal College of Music, and plays a loaned violin by Rugieri from the 1680s. He told me it's insured for £250,000. Mr Cicic stood out visually from his other 14 colleagues. All were black-clad and in impeccably authentic 17th and 18th century style stood as they played, but Mr Cicic was super-animated in the 'allegro', bending his knees like a high-diver about to plunge into the Mariana Trench from a speedboat, before in the 'largo' drawing his bow longingly across the strings as he spun a cantabile tune over the reiterated bass-pattern of a stepped descent.
Albinoni's Oboe Concerto in D minor was perhaps the most familiar of the works played, and its 'adagio' contains an oboe melody that the programme notes aptly remarked is treated as if it were a singer. It has just the kind of bitter-sweetness that was taken up later as a signature tonal emblem by W.A. Mozart. I didn't think that Frank de Bruine's oboe sound always projected perfectly clearly over the sound of the 14 strings circling him. I have a nagging doubt whether the Sheldonian is quite the right venue for certain chamber music. This is a minority view, of course, since it makes a very satisfying architectural/musical marriage with these compositions, having been built between 1664 and 1669 and thus pre-dating only somewhat much of the chamber music canon. I myself, though, think a smaller, certainly lower-ceilinged space is sometimes preferable, especially when the number of players dwindles to a trio or duet or, as on Friday night, when harpsichordist Alastair Ross played solo Bach's Italian Concerto of 1711. Granted, the sage green with gold piping harpsichord was trundled forward towards the audience, but even so Mr Ross cut a slightly forlorn figure adrift under Robert Streater's painted ceiling, like a Thames barge that's broken free of its moorings. The piece itself lacks variety, in my view; it has its being in a hinterland where music meets mathematics, and not especially to the advantage of the former discipline.
After the interval, Vivaldi's Concerto for two violins in A minor featured Mr Cicic playing with Rebecca Livermore, offering an intriguing contrast in styles since Ms Livermore remained upright and almost impassive against Mr Cicic's activity. At the conclusion of the concert, the band stood in a line, repeatedly bowing deeply and almost deferentially to all four sides of the auditorium, in fine period manner. Our four composers would have appreciated the authenticity of the gesture.