Friday 2 January 2009

The King's Consort New Year's Eve concert

To the Wigmore Hall on New Year's Eve for the King's Consort's concert under their current director, Matthew Halls. It was an all Bach evening and, given the smallness of the Wigmore Hall platform, everything was performed in small scale chamber versions. There were 2 violins, 1 viola, 1 cello, 1 double bass and 3 oboe players (the third doubling oboes da caccia and d'amore), plus Halls himself on harpsichord.

The opened with a conjectural early version of the 4th Suite, scored for just strings and oboes (no trumpets etc). The 3 oboes sounded fabulous together but, by some quirk of the acoustic, tended to rather dominate the ensemble. Granted, we were sitting at the very back of the balcony, so perhaps balance was better elsewhere. The ensemble gave a fabulously crisp and lively account of the piece.

This was followed by Cantata BWV 58 Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid, composed for the first Sunday of the New Year. It is not a jolly piece, but a dialogue between Soprano (Lucy Crowe) and Bass (Andrew Foster-Williams). Both Crow and Foster-Williams gave brilliant performances; Foster-Williams had been announced as being ill but you couldn't tell from his wonderfully resonant account of the bass solos.

Part 1 ended with the Quodlibet BWV 524, a bizarre pot-pourri of texts and tunes written for a family wedding and full of jokes and references which we can no longer understand. The 4 singers were Crowe, Robin Blaze, Charles Daniel and Foster-Williams. They had a great time, as did the ensemble; they almost convinced us that they were performing a real piece of music, and gave us a rare glimpse of unbuttoned, secular Bach.

Part 2 opened with the harpichord concerto in A, BWV 1055. Here we discovered another balance problem. Even though the harpsichord was moved and its cover put up, the balance between keyboard and strings was not idea. The keyboard just did not dominate in the way we nowadays expect. In solo passages with string accompaniment, the strings were just too dominant. Perhaps Halls speeds did not really leave time for the melodic material to register, or perhaps we need to learn new ways of listening to this material.

A further cantata followed, another dialogue one for Soprano (Crowe) and Bass (Foster-Williams), Selig ist der Mann, BWV 57. This was another dialogue cantata, between Christ and the Soul, written for Boxing Day 1725. Again Crowe and Foster-Williams gave superb performances, both having some sublime (and some virtuosic) moments.

Finally we were treated to the motet Lobet den Herren, sung by just the 4 singers (Crowe, Blaze, Daniels, Foster-Williams) accompanied by the ensemble. Bach playing and singing at its finest and most incisive

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