“We shall have speedily a New Opera,” the Gentleman’s Journal wrote in January 1692, “wherein something very surprising is promised us: Mr. Purcell, who joins to the Delicacy and Beauty of the Italian way, the Graces and Gayety of the French, composes the music.” The announcement did not promise too much, as the premiere of Purcell’s The Fairy Queen on 2 May 1692 in the Queen’s Theatre in Dorset Garden in London surpassed anything seen previously: the audience experienced a unique spectacle at which – besides kites, flying machines and fireworks – artificial fountains were also presented. Purcell followed the French “goût” in the music, which established itself with Charles II’s return from exile in France – with a series of French dances that diffuse an atmospheric musical tableau.
The scholars of the Karajan Academy of the Berliner Philharmoniker will kick off this concert with the suite from Purcell’s successful “semi-opera” in a charming arrangement for brass and percussion. After Beethoven’s elegant wind octet, which is closer to the agreeable tone of the suite than a classical four-movement sonata cycle, they will play Ravel’s no less elegant Introduction et Allegro for harp, flute, clarinet and string quartet. The concert concludes with Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy’s String Octet in E flat major op. 20: a brilliant early work in which an Allegro suffused in light is followed by a seraphic Andante and an elfin Scherzo, before a Finale full of contrapuntal finesse ensures a lively conclusion.