Academy of Ancient Music/Richard Egarr at Milton Court

WFE Bach
Symphony in G
JCF Bach
Concerto in E flat for Fortepiano and Viola, BR C44
Concerto in D for Fortepiano, Hob XVIII: 11
Symphony No.33 in B flat, K319

Jane Rogers (viola)

Academy of Ancient Music
Richard Egarr (fortepiano & director)

Reviewed by: Curtis Rogers

Reviewed: 26 March, 2014
Venue: Milton Court Concert Hall, London

Richard Egarr. Photograph: Marco BorggreveRegrettably, Angelika Kirchschlager was indisposed and, with no replacement forthcoming, changes to the programme had to be made. Richard Egarr mirrored the father-son relationship of the first half with replacement pieces by Haydn and Mozart in the second – two composers whom he regards as standing in an analogous relationship in spiritual and musical terms. It also meant that the works performed here were written within the space of just over a decade, affording the opportunity to compare and contrast.

Wilhelm Friedrich Ernst Bach (1759-1845) was the eldest son of Johann Christoph Friedrich (1732-1795) and the only grandson of Johann Sebastian to pursue music as a career with any success. Although they are among the last of the Bach dynasty, they are also two of the most obscure. It is thought that W. F. E. Bach may have composed his Symphony in G in London during the 1780s. The Academy of Ancient Music brought out its witty and urbane character – somewhat like that of Haydn’s early Symphonies – with vividly contrasting musical gestures. Comparatively wiry string sound allowed the bassoons and horns to come into prominence, but the strings’ richer sonority came through in their dramatic tremolos in the second and third movements.

Jane Rogers. Photograph: C. F. Bach (known as the Bückeburg Bach) may have written his Double Concerto as late as 1790 and the broad exposition of the first movement is not unlike that of Mozart’s Concertos, though the modest scoring for strings, horns, oboes and bassoons bears more direct comparison with Mozart’s earlier such works. Directing from the fortepiano, Egarr led the AAM in a determined and forceful course, cultivating some of the impulsiveness more usually associated with the music of his older brother, C. P. E. Considering that the material is not all that varied, nor very harmonically adventurous, a little more light and shade would not have been amiss. The writing for the solo instruments is also very episodic, tending to enter in discrete sections rather than in confrontation or development with the orchestra. Even so, Jane Rogers seemed disengaged, not least in the slow movement: the viola’s dreamy, unwinding lines over pizzicatos and a rippling keyboard accompaniment could have been more magical.

Unlike Mozart, Haydn left no keyboard concertos of any real consequence, though the one in D (1784) has its points, being famous for its Gypsy-style finale. For Egarr, this performance was a flight of whimsy, taking the liberty to improvise a brief introduction to the first movement, and a transition between the first and second movements. More appropriately, there were wild flashes of colour in the glissando preceding the ‘Ungherese’ section of the finale, and another jazzy one, using a more or less pentatonic mode. In contrast, the AAM generally played more gracefully than in the first half, though the horns were often aggressively prominent, tending to upset the balance and texture of the music.

The players sounded most integrated and seamless in Mozart’s Symphony No.33 (1779) though the horns were still not entirely pacified. Moreover, the Minuet was more vociferous than elegant – the chromatic ascent to the repeat of the main melody played more as a slide – and there was some roughness in the phrasing of the second movement, despite warmth of sound otherwise. The outer movements were instilled with palpable energy – the finale perhaps even taken too quickly – and with a foreboding contrast in the development of the first movement where Mozart uses a four-note motif which foreshadows that of the great fugal finale of the ‘Jupiter’ Symphony.

Ebullience and vitality were much to the fore rather than finesse, but certainly the performances impressed the urgency of these compositions upon our imagination.

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