Friday night’s concert at the Sheldonian proved to be a most welcome retreat from the current cares of the county into the world of the baroque. The theatre was, of course, the perfect setting for this concert being contemporaneous with much of the music on the playlist, and a delightful selection of the joys of the baroque this proved to be. From 'The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba' to the closing strains of Timothy Watts’ oboe in the final Bach concerto, the City of Oxford Orchestra skipped lightly through their precise and piquant performance. However, the second Albinoni piece really gave Timothy and his fellow oboist, Rachel Ingleton, the opportunity to explore the joys of the Arpeggio and, in the final Allegro, to challenge the violins to keep up. Albinoni’s distinctive use of imitative devices was particularly effective in the minor-key Adagio movement with enthralling harmonic clashes between the two oboes.
Following Handel’s 'Concerto Grosso Opus 6', the first half of the concert concluded with a spirited rendition of the most familiar piece on the bill, Vivaldi’s 'Spring'. Fortunately, Vivaldi’s musical composition proved more elaborate, sophisticated and evocative than the original sonnet on which it is based, and here Roland Roberts’ first violin carried the piece and the orchestra through an energetic and joyful interpretation of the piece, capturing the uplifting tone of the music and conveying the thrill of new life burgeoning.
The second half opened with a second Vivaldi concerto, and here Roland Roberts' violin was joined by Peter Adams’ cello. The bright timbre of the violin contrasting with the warmer tones of the cellos' mirroring melody, transposed to the instruments' range, ultimately lead to the thrumming orchestral rhythm of the final Allegro molto, which underpins the interplay between the two solo instruments.
The next piece, Pachelbel’s 'Canon' is one of my favourite baroque tunes and here the orchestra perfectly illustrated the polyphonic texture of the music, with multiple melodies and countermelodies carried by the violins over Peter Adams' mellifluous eight-note cello base line, undoubtedly aided by the 1697 Rogeri cello he played. For me, the Pachelbel specifically and the baroque generally are incomplete without the plucked notes of the harpsichord, and indeed Thomas Allery’s precise and persistent playing were an important underlying feature of the whole concert.
All this virtuosity and exploration of musicality and musical forms came together in the finale, Bach's 'Concerto in D minor for Oboe and Violin' as Roland Roberts' violin and Timothy Watts' oboe intertwined through the sophistication of Bach’s composition, ably supported by the orchestra. The piece opens in typical Baroque fashion with the opening theme providing the basis on which the movements are crafted. Through the elegance of the elegiac slow movement and culminating in the ebullient and energetic Allegro.
As well as the audience’s spirits being lifted by the bliss of the baroque, we also had the satisfaction of knowing that all proceeds of the concert were going to support Dogs for Good. So with hearts warmed and spirits raised we reluctantly stepped back into the weeds of the world.