Carlos María Solare hears a performance of Handel, Telemann and Bach at the Konzerthaus Berlin on 28 April 2022

Antoine Tamestit: stealing the limelight in a feast of Baroquery


Handel’s Concerto Grosso op.6 no.8, with its prominent unaccompanied, questioning phrases for the violas, seemed like a preview of an evening that was unequivocally focused on the string family’s alto member. Telemann’s Viola Concerto, the earliest of its kind, received an exhilarating reading, its sprightly allegros beautifully shaped by Antoine Tamestit with bouncing spiccato strokes. The Andante third movement was given an unexpected but wholly convincing polonaise-like lilt. Bach’s E flat major Concerto is an attempt at reconstructing the original version of music later recycled in several cantatas and in the Harpsichord Concerto BWV1053. As published in the New Bach Edition, most of the solo viola part is placed low in the instrument’s register.

Even with the carefully considered partnership of the Akademie für Alte Musik, Tamestit’s ‘Mahler’ Stradivari didn’t always come through as clearly as one might have wished. This controversial concerto’s highlight was its pathos-laden middle movement, which reworks a touching aria from Bach’s Cantata BWV169.

Although Tamestit was given top billing, a good share of the limelight deservedly went to Romanian-born, London-based fellow violist Sascha Bota, who matched Tamestit blow by blow in the imitative writing of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto no.6 and an arrangement – by Peter Williams and John Hsu – of the Sonata for viola da gamba BWV1029. The little trills and frills with which the two soloists embellished their lines had presumably been agreed upon in advance, but they sounded completely spontaneous.

Telemann’s Concerto for two violas has the soloists locked in 3rds for the duration, and here the two instruments’ nicely contrasting colours paid particularly handsome dividends. Indeed, the rougher-hewn sound of Bota’s early 18th-century German viola consistently made its mark alongside the honeyed timbre of Tamestit’s Strad.


Photo: Archiv Akamus