Music played as the composers would have wished, at St Andrew’s

Minor Pleasures: Baroque music for two violins and continuo

Music by Telemann, Purcell, J.S. Bach, Corelli

Claire Macfarlane (violin), Jessica Lightfoot (violin), Emma Goodbehere (cello), Ariana Odermatt (harpsichord)

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday, 12 September 2012, 12.15pm

It was striking to see a red harpsichord that exactly matched the carpet in St. Andrew’s!  That was not the only euphony on Wednesday.

Listening to lilting music on baroque instruments (and bows), in baroque style, was a pleasant way to spend a lunch-hour in the warm ambience of St. Andrew’s Church..

The first item was a surprise – ‘Gulliver Suite’ by Georg Philipp Telemann.  The excellent programme notes informed us that it was one of a set of twenty-five lessons written “for the enjoyment of music makers at home”, in 1728, only two years after Jonathan Swift’s novel was published.  It is amazing how quickly the book travelled abroad, presumably to Telemann in a German translation.  The work was for two violins only, in five movements: Intrada: Spirituoso; Lilliputsche Chaconne; Brogdingnagische Gigue; Reverie der Laputier, nebst ihren Aufweckern (Reverie of the Laputans and their Attendant Flappers), Andante; Loure der gesitteten Hoyhnhnms (Loure [presumably from the French Loureur meaning ponderousness, dullness] of the Well-mannered Flappers) / Fure der unartigen Yahoos (Wild dance of the Untamed Yahoos).

The titles bring a smile to one’s face.  Whoever coined the phrase ‘serious music’ had not heard of this suite!  The dance movements represented the scenes and characters in Dickens’s work.  A couple of lines of the autograph score were reproduced in the printed programme, depicting (as they almost literally do) the Lilliputians with their hemi-demi-semi-x2-quavers, and the Brobdingnags with their semi-breves, in 24 over 1 time-signature!

The giants who notionally performed the Gigue were noted as ‘clumsy’ – but it is hard to sound clumsy on two well-played violins!  Likewise, the naughty Yahoos were not outlandishly badly behaved in this combination of instruments, being neither particularly furious or wild.  Nevertheless, the inferences were there in the music.

A very good spoken commentary on the works to be played followed, from Claire Macfarlane.

Not for the first time in this venue, I found the violin tone too astringent at times.  The varnished wooden floor and the clear acoustics seem to create this effect.

It was an interesting contrast to have Purcell’s Sonata no.4 in D minor, Z.805 (from 10 Sonatas in 4 parts) follow the Telemann.  The five movement work is scored for two violins with cello and harpsichord continuo.  The cello part counterpointed the harmony of the violins beautifully, and the work was played with nicely nuanced baroque style.  Personally, I preferred the addition of the lower tones in this work compared with the purely violin tones of the Telemann.  While the cello sound carried well, the harpsichord did not come through to the same extent against the incisive violin sound, the violinists being placed directly in front of the keyboard instrument.  The playing, however, was well-nigh impeccable.

The more catholic style of Purcell’s writing was full of interest, with much interplay of parts and use of dissonance.

Bach was so taken with Alessandro Marcello’s Concerto no.3 in D minor for oboe, that he arranged it into a solo harpsichord concerto (BWV 974).  The whole work has plenty of character – no wonder Bach was attracted to it, as was the audience, hearing it superbly played by Ariana Odermatt.  The articulation was splendid, allowing all parts to come through clearly.

The last composer featured was Corelli, firstly in his Sonata no.4 in E minor (from Twelve Sonatas, Op.2).  The five-movement work was delightfully played by the four musicians.  The Preludio – adagio was graceful, featuring many suspensions.  An Allemanda – presto followed, then a Grave movement, in complete contrast.  Again, I found the harpsichord very reticent compared with the cello.  The Adagio and final Giga – allegro were notable for beautifully unified playing, plenty of lift, and absolutely spot-on rhythm.

The Sonata no.12 in G major (Chaconne) that followed was also a most attractive work for all four players.  The working out of variations on a four-note figure was inspired, and a satisfying end to a concert of seldom-heard works (with the exception perhaps of the Bach) that gave variety and contrast.  The playing was of such a standard that we probably heard the music very much as the composers would have intended.



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