Sunday, 17 May 2015

Masaaki Suzuki and Bach Collegium Japan launch the London Festival of Baroque Music

Masaaki Suzuki
Masaaki Suzuki
Bach cantatas and concertos; Hana Blazikova, Bach Collegium Japan, Masaaki Suzuki; London Festival of Baroque Music at St John's Smith Square
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on May 16 2015
Star rating: 4.5

Rare visit from Masaaki Suzuki and his ensemble, opening the re-booted festival

Hana Blazikova
Hana Blazikova
The London Festival of Baroque Music is both new and old, having been re-incarnated this year out of the Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music; the loss of the head sponsor causing a change of name but no loss of excitement and interest in the programming. This year's festival opened at St. John's Smith Square on Friday 15 May 2015 with a concert from Masaaki Suzuki and the Bach Collegium Japan in a rare visit to London. They were joined by soprano Hana Blazikova for a programme of Bach concertos and cantatas with the Concerto in D minor for 2 violins, BWV 1043, and Concerto in C minor for oboe and violin, BWV 1060r plus the cantatas 'Mein Herze schwimmt im Blut, BWV 199 and Jauchzet gott in allen Landen! BWV 51 and the aria Alles mitt Gott und nichts ohn ihn BWV 1127.

Maasaki Suzuki directed from the harpsichord, with a small ensemble of seven strings. They made a very up-front sound, rather strong and direct with a sense that no concessions were being made to more 19th century sensibilities of orchestral sound. The result was very vigorous and surprisingly rich toned for such a small group. The solo parts in Bach's double violin concerto were played by the section leaders, Ryo Terakado and Yukie Yamaguchi, and there was a real feeling that these were primus inter pares without the solo parts being over spotlit, thus linking the work to the earlier concerto gross form. The vigorous, strongly articulated Vivace was followed by a graceful Largo with a strong sense of line from the soloists and a graceful sway to underlying rhythm. The Allegro finale was vibrant again with firm articulation, but some graceful details in the solos.

Bach's cantata Mein Herze schwimmt im Blut, BWV 199 has a long penitential text (My heart is swimming in blood, since the multitude of my sins makes me, in God's holy eyes, into a monster). Soprano Hana Blazikova had a very distinctive voice, highly plangent and very expressive but rather particular in its forward, very straight tone. The cantata opened with a long and highly expressive recitative with Hana Blazikova's soprano complemented by an expressive accompaniment. The first aria, was a gently expressive one for just soprano, oboe and continue. It started with a long winding line from the oboe with the voice taking some time to come in with the apt words Stumme Seufzer (Silent sighs). A further accompanied recitative led to the gracefully flowing second aria, full of warm string tone and shapely phrasing from Hana Blazikova. This was a large scale piece, almost operatic in its emotions.  A short recitative led to the chorale, a brisk movement with a busy solo viola part and the soprano taking the calmer chorale melody. The final, joyful aria was a perky, bouncy conclusion with a burbling oboe part.

After the interval we started with a recent discovery, a soprano aria Alles mit Gott und nicts ohn'ihn BWV 1127 written in 1713 for the birthday of the Duke of Weimar. It was charming, strophic piece, with a rather wordy text. Each verse was accompanied just by continuo with the strings joining at the end for the ritornello. But the continuo part has a very elaborate cello part indeed, was the Duke an amateur cello player perhaps?

This is where I found Anna Picard's programme note rather frustrating; it was very strong on the philosophy behind Bach's music, with quotes from Richard Tarushkin, but rather lighter on facts.  It would have been nice to know more of the background to the soprano aria, given its comparative rarity and similarly the audience might have found it helpful to know that the following concerto for violin and oboe is a reconstruction of a lost original.

The Concerto in C minor for oboe and violin, BWV 1060r survives only in Bach's later re-construction for two harpsichords. The putative original, having been re-constructed, has become one of the staples of the repertoire. Here the soloists were Ryo Terakado and Masamitsu San'nomiya. In the jolly opening movement, I felt that the violin soloist, Ryo Terakado, could have been more demonstrative as his playing had too much concerto grosso-like feel and did not balance the way that Masamitsu San'nomiya's lovely warm oboe was rather more spotlit. This worked better in the Adagio with its plucked string accompaniment; you felt the two soloists were more balanced in their gracefully intertwining solos. Though, Masaaki Suzuki's playing the continuo on the organ did make the texture rather gloopy. The final Allegro went with a real swing, with some terrific passage-work and string crossing from Ryo Terakado.

The final work in the programme was the gloriously celebratory cantata Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen BWV 51. This opened with a gloriously joyful almost coloratura aria, in which Hana Blazkikova duetted with Rudolf Lorinc's trumpet. Never one apparently to linger, Masaaki Suzuki's tempo here certainly took no prisoners, but his performers responded brilliantly. The following accompagnato was in complete contrast, with sustained strings, a plangent soprano line and a busy cello continuo. The second aria was a gentle lilting piece for just soprano and continuo, which led into the chorale where Bach combined the sober soprano chorale line with a pair of joyously dancing violins, concluding with an Alleluja with yet more coloratura duetting between soprano and trumpet. A joyous conclusion to a fine concert.

I did wonder about the performers attitudes to the texts themselves, as the performers rather underplayed the religious element in Bach's writing; an approach which can pay interesting dividends and shows a strong lack of a wish to be pigeon-holed. Overall, I sensed an approach to Bach's work which was principled but which took no prisoners, giving us a warts and all feel to the sound world of period performance rather than attempting to create highly finished orchestral sound. Instead the results were vibrant and alive.

The packed audience (even the balcony was open) was treated to an encore, another joyous aria from the cantatas with obbligato oboe this time.

Elsewhere on this blog:

No comments:

Post a comment

Popular Posts this month