Antoine Tamestit at Wigmore Hall – Bach Cello Suites on viola and Olga Neuwirth’s Weariness heals Wounds

Suite in G for unaccompanied cello, BWV1007
Olga Neuwirth
Weariness heals Wounds [UK premiere]
Suite in C for unaccompanied cello, BWV1009

Antoine Tamestit (viola)

Reviewed by: Arnold Jarvist

Reviewed: 27 April, 2015
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Antoine TamestitPhotograph: Eric Larrayadieu / Naive

There cannot have been many, if any, members of the Wigmore Hall audience at this BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert who were not familiar with the opening of J. S. Bach’s G major Cello Suite – so it was a brave choice for Antoine Tamestit to start his recital with this – before we had acclimatised to the viola’s lighter timbre. Well-known on the richly sonorous cello, the first impression on Tamestit’s viola (not helped by nervy opening bars) was too dainty, lacking in depth.

Fortunately, it didn’t take long for the ears to adjust – and to appreciate Tamestit’s superb musicianship and affinity for some of Bach’s most sublime music. The open strings of the viola are the same as those of the cello (C, G, D, A), so it is relatively straightforward to play the music exactly as Bach wrote it, sounding an octave higher. The higher pitch and lighter, though mellow, tone ensured this glorious music soared freely, and Tamestit made it dance delightfully, with lithe and nimble finger-work. That said, as well as the fudged opening of the initial Suite, a few too many notes throughout this and the other such work failed to ring true, Tamestit’s delicate touch resulting in some disconcerting overtones – but his overwhelmingly joyous way with this timeless music carried the day and made a strong case for hearing it on the viola.

In between the two Bach Suites, the former BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist gave the UK Olga Neuwirth’s Weariness heals Wounds, a 2014 commission from Wigmore Hall and the Paris Autumn Festival. The composer describes the music as “somewhat difficult”, but Tamestit proved more than equal to its technical demands while relishing dramatic possibilities, telling a gripping story that surely convinced even those who may not have thought that ten or so minutes of gritty contemporary solo-viola music would be their cup of tea.

As an encore, after the sunshine-infused close of Bach’s C major Suite, Tamestit offered what he described as a “cherry on the cake”. The brief piece by György Kurtág was played with smiling brilliance, even if Bach’s cake did not really need adornment.

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