JOE CONWAY reviews this week’s classical events.
Academy of Ancient Music, 23rd September 7.30pm at West Road Concert Hall, £27/£20/£14.
There was a distinct feeling of deja vu about returning to West Road after three months or so. But it was a comforting kind of feeling based on familiar landmarks. The brickwork crying out for a plasterer, the faded drapes, and the in-your-face orange seats in the concert hall. And in the foyer the chattering classes out in force, the ridiculous queues at the bar, and plentiful flyers giving the promise of good things to come.
There was deja vu in another sense too. The AAM programme contained no familiar works and no familiar composers and, as in the past, I couldn’t help wondering if this was to be a bona fide concert of worthwhile music or an illustrated musicology lecture.
I rather cheekily put this point to music director Richard Egarr at the end of his typically ebullient pre-concert chat. He was adamant that all the music on the programme was of the highest quality even if it was unfamiliar. After all, it was music by the Bach family, ancestors of the great Johann Sebastian, and a clan of professional musicians spanning two centuries and more.
The final touch of deja vu came with the opening chords of Heinrich Bach’s cantata Ich danke dir Gott. Not for the first time at an AAM concert my doubts were instantly dispelled by the authority and commitment of the performance, and the enthusiasm and enjoyment of the musicians. And, yes, by the quality and charm of the work too.
This cantata and two sonatas for strings by the same 17th century composer were essentially Germanic versions of Monteverdi and the Gabrielis. Florid ornamented lines, rapid repeated notes, unmetrical rhythms, sequences and echoes – it’s all good early Baroque stuff and it was all there in these delightful pieces. But held together with a sustained musical argument too.
What was also present in abundance was a sense of fun shared by all the performers but especially by Richard Egarr at the harpsichord and the AAM’s larger-than-life leader Pavlo Beznosiuk. It’s not often that audiences at classical concerts literally laugh out loud but the throwaway ending of the Sonata in C was genuinely chortle-making.
Matching the three pieces by Heinrich were three by his son Johann Christoph Bach. These were vocal works which gave the Academy’s ten solo singers opportunities for neat and nimble articulation and phrasing. Richard had likened the final cantata Meine Freundin du bist schon to a kind of Baroque Carmina Burana. Including a stunning chaconne which inevitably invited comparison with Purcell’s masterpiece in Dido and Aeneas, there were also some urgent cries of Ich komm from the male lead.
As some geezer once said, ‘If musicology be the food of love, play on.’
Patrick Hemmerle (piano), 29th September 1pm at URC Trumpington Street. Free.
What is it about Chopin and the piano? A marriage made in heaven, or a unique coalescence of personal genius, the romantic spirit of the times, and developing instrumental technology?
Listening to Patrick Hemmerle’s heavenly hour-long recital at URC made me even more conscious of what a unique miracle Chopin’s piano output is. Ticking every conceivable box from variety of expression to harmonic innovation, and from idiomatic writing for the instrument to originality of structure.
Patrick’s choice of material emphasised not only Chopin’s virtuoso keyboard writing but also his virtuosity as a composer. Ballades 3 and 4, the F minor Fantaisie, and the Polonaise-Fantaisie all date from the early 1840s and include beautiful melodies, subtle harmony, and brilliant piano figurations. Each of them also contains at least one moment when your heart seems to turn over with the music’s intense emotion.
It’s good to report that Patrick’s performance matched the choice of material. Playing with a loose and limpid tone he brought out right hand melodies effortlessly, and let us hear all sorts of left hand counter-melodies that are often obscured. The many melismas glittered flawlessly in the generous URC acoustics and the young French pianist not only delivered plentiful detail but also an admirable sense of the music’s overall architecture.
Classical Gigs of the Week
Friday 8th October 1.10pm, Kettle’s Yard, Rosie Ventris (viola), Kate Whitley (piano)
Friday 8th 7pm, Kettle’s Yard, Lore Lixenberg (soprano), Anton Lukoszevieze (cello)
Friday 8th 7.30pm, West Road, Sampson Orchestra of Cambridge
Sunday 10th 1.15pm, Fitz Museum, Paula Downes (soprano), David Trippett (piano)
Quote of the Week
‘Johann Sebastian Bach’s father and uncle were identical twins. They were so alike that even their wives couldn’t tell them apart. Mmmm, sounds full of possibilities . . .’ Richard Egarr, pre-concert chat at West Road, 23rd September.