In the second of its Handel in London concerts, the Academy of Ancient Music decamped from 25 Brook Street to the Picture Gallery in the Foundling Museum – Handel was closely involved with, and was a governor of, the Foundling Hospital for the last ten years of his life.
A lively, well-organised tour of the Museum and its treasures and a no less vivid talk from Edward Blakeman on the great man as seen through the eyes of his contemporaries prefaced the AAM’s concert of trios and solo works by Handel and his friends, one of whom, Mattheson, was close enough a friend to fight Handel in a duel.
It’s become easy to take the AAM for granted as its members guide their loyal audience into the spirit of the music they’re playing, and they make it seem so easy. These sonatas were a case in point, the programme book-ended by two swaggering Handel trios declaiming Baroque self-confidence with an almost Pickwickian assertiveness and putting into context the astonishing emotional range of the concert’s other composers.
In his brief introduction to the Geminiani, Joseph Crouch drew attention to his quirky rhetorical style, which needs more help than Handel’s to carry its expressive point. But being wrong-footed by the changes of direction from playful to earnest still came as a surprise, all down to Crouch’s mercurial playing, which delighted in Geminiani’s pungent syncopations and angular phrases. Crouch’s sound was keenly focussed, with a suggestion of vibrato, exquisitely judged ornamentation and eloquent portamento
widening the music’s range. He’s a really fine player, with a directness of style that makes every note sing. Richard Egarr’s harpsichord-playing was much more than harmony-filling accompaniment, and he was similarly dynamic in the ensemble’s bustling performance of the Avison.
Egarr was spellbinding in Mattheson’s harpsichord Suite, in which he exploited his instrument’s considerable sonority. His unfussy flamboyance offered a deliriously explosive ‘Prelude’, a fabulously florid ‘Allemande’, with swirls of decoration doing a transcendent high-wire act. This was playing in the grand manner, brilliantly realised by Egarr, rounded off by a surging ‘Sarabande’ and incisive ‘Gigue’.
Pavlo Beznosiuk was the soloist in the Geminiani; he and Egarr as elusive shadows that dart in and out of the music and they let you hear how so much of the strength of line and gesture emanates from the skeins of decoration. The closing Handel Trio-Sonata took grandeur to new heights, particularly in the epic ‘Passacaglia’, enhanced by the rich violin sound from Cecilia Bernardini.
Throughout, each of the players bounced off each other in easy, connective ensemble.