Tuesday 5 March 2024

Six Concerts avec plusieurs instruments - London Handel Players

Bach: Brandenburg Concertos - title page
Bach: Brandenburg Concertos - title page

Six Concerts avec plusieurs instruments:
Bach, Vivaldi, Telemann; London Handel Players, director Adrian Butterfield; Wigmore Hall
Reviewed 1 March 2024

An evening of colours and timbres as London Handel Players explore multi-instrument concertos including some intriguing solo combinations, all performed with style and engaging aplomb

Bach's manuscript for his Brandenburg Concertos describes them as Six Concerts avec plusieurs instruments and the London Handel Players, director Adrian Butterfield, used this title for their Friday 1 March 2024 concert at Wigmore Hall which featured six concertos, two each by Bach, Telemann and Vivaldi, for a wide variety of plusieurs instruments

The fashion for multi-instrument concertos seems to have come to a head during the 1720s and 1730s (Bach's Brandenburg Concertos manuscript is dated 1721) and the results vary from two or three instruments to a positive concerto grosso-like ensemble.

We began with Telemann's Concerto in E for flute, oboe d'amore, viola d'amore and strings, three rather quiet instruments brilliantly put together by Telemann. In four movements - slow, fast, slow, fast - the first began with gentle throbbing creating a seductive sound, the colours of the solo instruments setting each other off. This was followed by a perky dance with uneven phrase lengths, then a little bit of magic in a slow movement with a gentle lilt and finally a bouncy romp. Unusually Telemann used the viola d'amore lyrically and its tone complemented by the others.

Next came Vivaldi's Concerto in F 'Il Proteo, o il Mondo al Rovescio', his second version of the material. The first had had an in joke, but this one was more serious. Using two ensembles, flute, oboe, violin in one, flute, oboe, cello and harpsichord (RH) in the other. The first movement was brisk, vivid and bouncy with Vivaldi using the two groups in a sort off q&a manner. The second movement dispensed with  the accompanying strings, concentrating on soloists and continuo, creating something graceful yet with strong instrumental colours. For the finale, sharp tutti rhythms contrasted with busy solo writing for the groups. An intriguing piece that sat partly between concerto grosso and orchestral work.

Finally in the first half, Bach's better known Concerto for oboe, violin and strings in C minor, a work reconstructed from one of his harpsichord concertos. The soloists seemed to emerge naturally from the rich ensemble sound in the opening movement, Andreas Helm's solo oboe contrasting strongly with Adrian Butterfield's solo violin. The second movement, had the two soloists weaving intertwining lines over continuo, and we ended with a finale full of engaging energy.

The second half opened with Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 6, featuring two solo violas and an ensemble of low instruments (no violins, no ensemble violas). The first movement was pure texture, Rachel Byrne and Adrian Butterfield's solos emerging and receding from the rich textures, the second movement was poised trio sonata, elegant counterpoint showing of the plangent viola tones. We ended with a robust dance full of bounce and fireworks.

Then came more Telemann, this time his Concerto in A minor for recorder, viola da gamba and strings, again a rather unusual grouping of instruments. The graceful first movement saw Telemann keeping the ensemble well out the way, showcasing Rachel Brown's solo recorder and Gavin Kibble's solo viola da gamba. This was followed by a busy, headlong movement full of colour and character, followed by an elegant trio sonata with no accompanying strings, and then more character with a perky dance finale.

We ended with a very full stage for Vivaldi's Concerto in G minor RV577 which features solo violin, two recorders, two oboes, bassoon and strings. It was full of energy, colour and movement with Vivaldi using his soloists in groups again, solo violin on one side, wind on the other. The middle movement was surprisingly elegant and spare whilst the finale was all vivid energy.

There was a lot of moving around, and people stepped forward to be soloist in one concerto and receded into the ensemble for another. Everything was performed with engaging aplomb and great style, each work exploring the particular colours the composer was using, but it was Telemann's two fascinating concertos that for me created the real magic.

London Handel Players:
Adrian Butterfield - director, solo violin, viola, viola d’amore
Andreas Helm - solo oboe
Rachel Brown - solo flute, recorder
Oliver Webber - violin
Maxim Del Mar - violin
Nicola Cleary - violin
Rachel Byrt - viola
Gavin Kibble - solo viola da gamba, cello
Sarah McMahon - solo cello
Jonathan Rees - cello, viola da gamba
Cecelia Bruggemeyer - double bass
Silas Wollston - harpsichord
Katy Bircher - flute, recorder II
Joel Raymond - oboe II
Nathaniel Harrison - bassoon
Paula Chateauneuf - lute, theorbo

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