Saturday 4 February 2012

Andreas Scholl at the Barbican

Last night Andreas Scholl and the Kammerorchesterbasel arrived at the Barbican with their all Bach concert; the second leg of a tour which started on Wednesday in Birmingham. The tour is, of course, tied in to a CD of Bach cantatasThe orchestra were quite few in number; just 3 first violins, 3 second violins and 2 violas. They opened with the sinfonia from Bach's cantata BWV 156, Ich steh mit einem Fuss in Grab, which includes a substantial oboe part, in fact the sinfonia is related to one of Bach's lost oboe concertos.

This was followed by the cantata Ich habe genug BWV82, in the version for alto voice. The cantata was written for bass voice but Bach went on to produce versions for soprano and for alto. Scholl was joined by oboe player Kerstin Kramp. Almost the first thing I noticed was that the balance between Scholl and band seemed to favour the instruments. The group works without a conductor, which of course means there is no-one out front to adjust balance in different halls. It may be that they adjusted things after the interval, or perhaps my ears simply compensated, but the cantata after the interval seemed far better balance.

After the interval we got the keyboard concerto No. 5 in F minor, excellently played by Giorgio Paronuzzi, the group's keyboard player. Unfortunately the instrument he was playing on was hardly a match for the orchestral sound and the instruments easily dominated it, so some of Paronuzzi's sparkling keyboard work got lost. In a hall the size of the Barbican you need a pretty big harpsichord to use as a solo instrument.

The second cantata was Gott soll allein mein Herze haben, BWV 169 where the band were joined by two oboes and an oboe da caccia. For the closing chorale the voice parts were sung by the string players (plus someone who seemed to be the orchestral manager), a rather neat and interesting solution/

Scholl was in good voice and turned in fine, disciplined performances. The alto parts (written probably for boy altos rather than counter-tenor), seem to lie in predominantly in his upper range and he sang quite lightly but very beautifully. This was a controlled and quite intense performance rather than being overtly demonstrative (despite Scholl's rather oddly swaying platform manner), beautifully poised and profoundly beautiful. Scholl first sang Bach's music as a boy treble and he seems to find a strong affinity with it.

The Barbican Hall was full and the audience was very, very enthusiastic. The concert was actually quite short (the advertised programme finished at 9.15pm having started at 7.30pm with a 20 minute interval) and we only got 1 encore, the aria Schlage doch gewunschte Stunde from a cantata once attributed to Bach but now accepted as being by Melchior Hoffmann. It includes the unusual instrument of a glockenspiel (presumably originally a carillon) playing the bells the text refers to.

A lovely concert which, for all the great beauties, felt a little slim.

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