Diverting St Andrew’s lunchtime concert of Baroque wind music

St Andrew’s Lunchtime Concerts

Eighteenth Century music Vivaldi, JS Bach, Johann David Heinchen, Johann Friedrich Fasch

Konstanze Artmann – violin, Rebecca Steel – flute, Calvin Scott – oboe, Oscar Laven – double bass, Kristine Zuelicke – piano

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday 20 November, 12:15 pm

If your local pub quiz threw a question at you: “Can you name a period when more great composers were born than any other?” The period 1835 – 1845 would be a good guess, or 1855 – 1865. But I’d lay the money on 1678 to 1688. Vivaldi, Rameau, JS Bach, Domenico Scarlatti, Zelenka, Weiss, Telemann, Handel, Porpora, Geminiani, just for starters; and that excludes two of the composers featured in this lunchtime recital:  Johann David Heinchen and Johann Friedrich Fasch. (you can actually find more composers born in the decades through the late 19th century, but I’m just drawing attention to the Bach-Handel decade when all four composers represented today were born).

Mid-Baroque chamber pieces written for winds are not often heard today. This recital began with a Vivaldi Sonata in C for flute, oboe, bassoon and basso continuo which meant double bass and piano here. No catalogue number – RV (Ryom-Verzeichnis) – was mentioned in the programme and if you look at the ‘sonata’ category of the huge lists of Vivaldi’s compositions in Wikipedia, it will not help. Consisting of four movements (slow, fast, slow fast), it had all the delightful, melodic characteristics of Vivaldi. Rebecca Steel’s flute led the way, but the other two winds as well as the basso continuo (double bass and piano), created such a delightful musical experience that I allowed myself to remark ‘lovely’ in my compulsive notes. And to speculate that it must surely have been Vivaldi’s sheer melodic fecundity, hardly matched by any other composer of the era, that cost him a reputation equal to Handel and Bach that he should have retained over the following 300 years.

J S Bach
A piece by J S Bach followed: this time easily identifiable: BWV 1020, though that’s a flute sonata (for just flute and keyboard), outside the group of six listed as BWV 1030 – 1035, because, as Rebecca explained in her engaging way, some scholars believe that it’s by Bach’s son C P E Bach. Certainly, there was a touch of the Galant, a sub-class between Baroque and Classical, with charming tunefulness that presaged Haydn and Mozart. The first movement was driven by triplet quavers, with a piano tone that suggested the early fortepiano rather than harpsichord. There were comparable Galant features in the ?Adagio slow movement, particularly the long sustained notes on the flute. It was a delight.

Johann David Heinichen was two years older than JS Bach and at one time was employed beside him at the court of Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Köthen. But before that he had, like Handel, worked in Italy to acquire familiarity with Italian opera which he put to good use when Prince Augustus, Elector of Saxony in Dresden, hired him; Dresden had a rich opera company and one of the best orchestras in Europe.

Heinichen’s piece was a duet in C minor for Calvin Scott’s oboe and Oscar Laven’s bassoon. It seemed to relish the comic potential of the bassoon in the long opening passage, rejoicing in the stark contrast between the two double reed instruments. The composition was fluent and seemed to reflect a highly gifted and fertile composer. The third, Andante, movement produced limpid, unusual sounds, that exhibited the fluency and eloquence of the two players. But a highly entertaining piece.

Heinichen is just one of the many 18th century composers who disappeared without trace for nearly 300 years; he was significantly resurrected by Reinhard Goebel, director of Musica Antiqua Köln which came to Wellington for the 1990 International Festival of the Arts (though they didn’t play Heinichen here).

The last of the four composers was a bit more familiar: Johann Friedrich Fasch, born three years after Bach. He too was from the same central German region (Thuringia and Sachsen-Anhalt) as the other two German composers, a small town a little north of Weimar, and he spent some years in Leipzig.

The quartet in B flat was for flute, oboe, violin and basso continuo (piano and double bass). This piece too proved delightful, seeming to suggest an environment that was particularly congenial, peaceful, providing fertile ground for the arts, especially music.

This piece , like the others in this recital, aroused admiration for the composer; the second movement (an Andante?) suggested something symphonic, a complexity and instrumental richness that seemed to go beyond the existence of a mere five instruments. And the last movement was a tumbling Allegro vivace (I’m just guessing about the titles of each movement), with a certain boisterous playing by bassoon and double bass.

So it was a very interesting, diverting recital that exposed unfamiliar music by famous composers and impressive compositions by two less well-known composers whose time might finally have come.

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