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Proms Chamber Music 16 - JS Bach and Villa–Lobos: Sharon Bezaly (flute), Mahan Esfahani (harpsichord), Ashley Wass (piano), Ailish Tynan (soprano), Claudio Bohórquez, Andreas Brantelid, Natalie Clein, Danjulo Ishizaka, Guy Johnston, Li-Wei, Marie Macleod, Christian Poltéra, Marcin Sieniawski (cellos), Cadogan Hall, London, 31.8.2009 (BBr)


 Attributed to J S Bach: Sonata in E flat major for flute and keyboard, BWV 1031

J S Bach: Suite No.2 in B minor, BWV 1067 – Badinerie
John McCabe: Sonata (Study No 12 - Homage to Tippett) (BBC commission: world première) (2009)
J S Bach, arranged for eight cellos by Villa–Lobos: Prelude in D minor (from Prelude in Eb minor, BWV853) and Fugue in D, BWV874
Villa–Lobos: Bachiana Brasileira No.5 (1938/1945)

Sharon Bezaly has been described as “God’s gift to the flute”. If this is so, why was she so poorly represented by a rather uninteresting Sonata, attributed to the great Bach and a race through the famous Badinerie? As she has had many works written for her – concertos as well as chamber pieces – wouldn’t it have been to her, and our, advantage to hear her in one or two of these special pieces? She played the given pieces very well indeed, but a real chance was missed here.

It’s hard to believe that John McCabe is 70 this year, but it’s good to know that he is still composing and creating important works, such as this addition to his continuing series of Studies, which he started in 1969. This new Study No 12 - Homage to Tippett is a large scale single movement, alternating chordal sections with fast and very busy music. The middle is slow and quiet where the notes proliferate, like flowers in a garden. There are sections where the spirit of the older composer is recalled, through sonorities which bring to mind his 1stPiano Sonata and the opera The Midsummer Marriage. As always with McCabe the construction of the music is thrilling and always keeps you wondering what will come next, you can never pre–guess him – and the ending, after much turbulence, was quite ethereal. Ashley Wass gave an assured performance, but I felt that he wasn’t entirely happy with the piece, a lack of familiarity making him slightly uncomfortable. I believe that there is more to this work than we heard today.

The two Bach and Villa–Lobos pieces suffered somewhat because one of the cellists fell ill after the start of the concert and a replacement had to be drafted in and a quick rehearsal taken immediately. However, instead of a feeling of danger, which can enliven a situation such as this and bring out the best in the players, the Prelude and Fugue received a performance which seemed like note spinning and a chore undertaken by the Brazilian rather than an act of homage and the Bachiana Brasileira No.5 - one of Villa–Lobos’s most attractive and approachable pieces – stayed very firmly rooted to the ground, and failed to take off in the various flights of fancy and fantasy he so carefully created. The singing of Ailish Tynan didn’t help matters for she is one of those singers who wobble uncontrollably making it difficult to know which note she is aiming for. I am not a fan of this type of singing, and never have been, and wonder why the public puts up with it for it is bad singing. More than that, it is ugly vocal production. Where is Jill Gomez when you need her?

There was one totally mystifying moment which totally ruined the end of the Bachiana Brasileira. As the music becomes more animated and impassioned the soprano has to make a glissando up to the very top of her range, and this brings the work to a thrilling conclusion. This afternoon, the performers stopped immediately before this last chord, waited a moment and then performed it. Very odd, totally incorrect and it spoiled a performance which had was in need of the coup of the glissando to rescue what was a poor performance overall.

Bob Briggs

For further details about forthcoming performances by 2009 BBC Proms the website


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