Wednesday 22 February 2023

Listening with different ears: Francesco Cordi directs Bach concertos and Brandenburg Concertos at Wigmore Hall

Christian Ludwig, Margrave of Brandenburg
Christian Ludwig, Margrave of Brandenburg
Dedicatee of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos
Bach: Brandenburg Concertos Nos. 1, 3, and 6, Harpsichord Concerto in D minor, Concerto for two oboes and bassoon; English Concerto, Francesco Corti; Wigmore Hall

Superbly vivid playing complemented by a real sense of enjoyment of the music and great presence.

Harpsichordist Jean Rondeau and I seem to be fated. Having missed his recital in Lucerne early this month, owing to my travel problems, Rondeau had to withdraw from the English Concert's concert at Wigmore Hall last night (21 February 2023), however, the good news is that he had an excellent replacement.

Francesco Corti directed the English Concert from the harpsichord at Wigmore Hall on 21 February 2023 in an all-Bach programme centred on Brandenburg Concertos Nos. 1, 3 and 6, plus the Harpsichord Concerto in D minor, BWV 1052 and the Concerto for two Oboes and Bassoon.

We began with the Harpsichord Concerto, the earliest surviving of Bach's such works dating from the 1730s though versions of the movements existed earlier. As ever, when listening to these concertos I often wonder what Bach intended. We heard the sort of instrumentation he planned, harpsichord and chamber group of single strings, but we were in a far larger hall than in Bach's time as the concerto was probably written either for family performance or by the Collegium Musicum in Zimmerman's Coffee House. The string players of the English Concert performed with strong, vibrant tone and the harpsichord that Corti was playing had an admirably rich sound. So, during the solo harpsichord moments, Corti's performance really counted, but when there was a stray string line accompanying the harpsichord, it was the strings that dominated.

The problem is that we listen with modern ears, where we expect a solo instrument to dominate and we have to accept that perhaps Bach's idea of a concerto may have been very different. Whilst the results are certainly not historical, you can begin to understand why Wanda Landowska played Bach in modern concert halls on a huge, steel-framed harpsichord!

But, if we listened with period ears then there was much to enjoy, particularly the contrasts in timbre and tone between the soloist and strings. In the slow movement, Corti brought a striking depth of colour to his playing whilst in the finale he was very vivid indeed, complemented by some vital string playing.

Next came Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, that glorious celebration of string sound. The first movement was filled with an engaging sense of fun, all bounce and zest, and then after a violin improvisation, we had a fast and vivid finale. Both outer movements were taken at quite a lick, and we enjoy the players' sheer energy and joy at playing this music.

The first half ended with a Concerto for two oboes and bassoon created from movements of the cantatas VWV42 and BWV249). So we had seven string players, harpsichord and three wind players and the result was rather like a concerto grosso or one of Handel's Concerti a due cori as the wind was often in dialogue with the strings. It was stylish and engaging, with playing of real presence and vividness and a lovely rich chestnut sound from the wind. The slow movement was quite strong meat, three intertwining wind lines over the strings, whilst the finale was a robust dance with busyness from both wind and violins.

After the interval, we had a pair of Brandenburg Concertos. No. 6 featured a trio of two violas and cello, plus continue and two violas da gamba. These latter two playing a very supporting role with little in the way of virtuoso playing. Perhaps, Bach was making a joke, as the programme note suggested, or simply using the instruments for their rich chordal warmth. As it was, we got terrific playing from the two viola players, ably supported by the solo cello. And in the slow movement, this continued as the three effectively gave us a trio sonata with two lovely intertwining viola lines. There was a delightful bounce and swing to the final dance, with the performance developing real verve. And throughout the work, the variety of colours and timbres that the players brought to the music was impressive.

It was another mix of colours again in Brandenburg Concerto No. 1, where we have wind, including oboes da caccia and two horns (playing critically high). The first movement was vigorous and vivid, full of colour and movement and certainly, the horns did not over-dominate. The second movement was more of a dialogue between the solo violino piccolo and the wind, and certainly, Nadja Zwiener made the small violin sound quite natural. There was bounce in the third movement along with those challenging horn parts, wonderfully played. The final movement, an intermingling of minuet, polacca and trios, featured an array of varied colours in a series of vibrant dances.

This was a richly engaging evening with some superbly vivid playing, and Corti certainly seemed to encourage the players to leverage Bach's use of a variety of timbres and textures. Every approach to these works is, inevitably, different but this was a memorable evening indeed,

Never miss out on future posts by following us

The blog is free, but I'd be delighted if you were to show your appreciation by buying me a coffee.

Elsewhere on this blog

  • A Byzantine Emperor at King Henry's Court: Christmas 1400, London: Cappella Romana explore music from the Byzantine & Sarum Rites - record review
  • Imaginative & very human: Rodula Gaitanou's new production of Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos at Opera North - opera review
  • A huge amount to admire: Richard Jones' production of Wagner's The Rhinegold debuts at ENO - opera review
  • Music from the African Continent & Diaspora: I chat to Samantha Ege about her latest disc, Homage - interview
  • NYCGB Young Composers 4NMC's annual collaborations with NYCGB results in an anthology disc of eight striking and challenging new works in superb performances by the young singers - record review
  • Seductive and magical moments: Sam Cave's exploration of music for the contemporary guitar enchants and intrigues  - concert review
  • Pianist Clélia Iruzun is the focus of this new disc of music by Nimrod Borenstein featuring his Concerto written for her - record review
  • The Golden Road to Samarkand: the Britten Sinfonia brings together two very different musical explorations of the Middle East - record review
  • From Paderewski to Edmund Finnis: Le piano symphonique's daring double-concert in Lucerne - concert review
  • New music should not be seen as extra-terrestrial, it should not generate fear: I chat to composer Ana Sokolovic, artistic director of the Société de musique contemporaine du Québec - interview
  • Fluidity and intimacy: Martha Argerich in Schumann's Piano Concerto at Le Piano Symphonique festival in Lucerne - concert review
  • Home

No comments:

Post a Comment

Popular Posts this month