Trevor Pinnock & English Concert, Wigmore Hall, 15 January, with Pamela Thorby, recorder; Lisa Beznosiuk, baroque flute; Rachel Podger, violin; William Carter, lute.
Zimmermann's Coffee House was home to the Leipzig Collegium Musicum's weekly concerts directed by Bach in the 1730s and '40s. The Wigmore Hall's 'Bach and his Contemporaries' series - celebrating the 250th anniversary of Bach's death - recreates the spirit of those concerts, with programmes of the sort that Bach would have devised himself, using (in the case of The English Concert at least) baroque instruments.
The opening piece, Telemann's A minor Suite for recorder and strings, made a delightfully spirited start to the evening, with impeccably crisp rhythms in the Ouverture's slow introduction and a rousing tempo in the ensuing triple-time section. In 'Les Plaisirs', soloist Pamela Thorby brought remarkable stamina and enthusiasm, as well as precision, to the punishingly fast (though never rushed) recorder part, and the ensemble was excellent (although the harpsichord was almost too loud at times).
In the beautiful 'Air à l'Italien' the increasingly sought-after Rachel Podger projected the wonderfully lyrical and florid violin line right to the back of the hall. The rapid scale-like runs in the two minuets were tossed off by Thorby with effortless grace and a lightness of touch, and the fast arpeggiated runs of the 'Réjouissance' were played with much wit. The group shone more than ever in the delightful and rumbustious 'Polonaise', a character piece in broad tempo offering all the players an excuse to let their hair down even further. Though ebullience was never at the expense of precision.
Bach's Double Harpsichord Concerto in C, BWV1061, is thought to be the only one of his harpsichord concertos originally written for the intrument. According to Christopher Hogwood in the booklet-note to his L'Oiseau Lyre recording with Christophe Rousset, it is a 'model of balance between the warring elements of four-hand writing - competition and collaboration'. Trevor Pinnock, joined by Nicholas Parle, gave a very assured, rather straight, performance, with excellent ensemble but a slightly mechanical feel.
Bach's Sonata in G for Violin and Harpsichord, BWV1019, has much greater immediate appeal. The violin plays the dominate role, and again Podger excelled, her heartfelt yet 'chaste' performance (with little or no vibrato) revealing rock-solid intonation. Pinnock's continuo line complemented the violin superbly and there was much witty imitation, including playful unison trills, between parts. Lutenist William Carter gave an amusing little introduction to Weiss's Tombeau sur le mort de M le Comte de Logy , in which Logy emerged as a somewhat eccentric character, who used an especially small lute as he liked to play it in bed. It is an intriguing, curiously low-key (almost improvisatory) piece which nevertheless, in Carter's sensitive reading, held the attention. The special effects he mentioned, notably the sound of bells tolling, were instantly recognisable and very effective.
Last came Bach's popular B minor Orchestral Suite, with Lisa Beznosiuk playing the baroque flute solos. It received a polished performance, although the extremely mellow flute was less able to project over the other parts than the recorder had been in the Telemann. Overall, Podger and Thorby were the real stars of the evening, with Bach's contemporaries coming off rather better than the old man himself.
[This concert was recorded for Radio 3 and can be heard on Friday 21 January at 7. 30. PGW]
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