Inspirations: The Early Music Weekend (1)

“Inspiring the Romantics”

Wilhelm Friedemann Bach
Sinfonia in F, F67
Fantasie in C minor, K475
Grosse Fuge, Op.133 [arr. Gottfried von der Goltz]
Concerto in D minor for piano and violin

Andreas Staier (fortepiano)

Freiburg Baroque Orchestra
Gottfried von der Goltz (violin)

“The Dowland Project”

Consort Songs:
Weep you no more sad fountains
Come again
The lowest trees have tops
Flow my tears
Now, O now I needs must part
Go crystal tears
In darkness let me dwell
From silent night
Fine knacks for ladies
Come heavy sleep

John Potter (tenor); John Surman (bass clarinet & soprano saxophone); Milos Valent (baroque violin & viola); Stephen Stubbs (lute) & Susanna Pell (bass viol)


0 of 5 stars

Reviewed by: Kenneth Carter

Reviewed: 15 September, 2006
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Hall & Purcell Room, London

The first of three days – of concerts, talks and a film – under Artistic Advisor Tess Knighton, and involving numerous luminaries of the ‘early music’ world. Following an introductory talk involving Knighton, Andreas Staier, Fabrice Fitch, and others, this astutely devised first programme gave us an overview of the abiding influence of the baroque in music more usually classified as ‘classical’ or ‘romantic’.

The Sinfonia by W.F. Bach, one of the sons of J.S., resembles one of his father’s suites – an Overture, an Andante, an Allegro and, then, a pair of minuets. Vibrato-less performance emphasised these origins. Yet, there was departure and adventure: no slow introduction, leaping intervals, rhythmic changes and abrupt modulations – the restlessness of “Sturm und Drang”.

Two masterpieces followed. In the Mozart, the fortepiano initially sounded remote and lacking richness, tinkling uninvitingly from distance in time. Soon, however, the music took over from the instrument. The eminently skilled hands of Andreas Staier conveyed the power and inspiration of Mozart’s genius breaking through the instrument’s limitations, producing a musical experience beyond its compass, without losing sight of the Fantasie’s baroque origins.

The Grosse Fuge (the original finale of Beethoven’s String Quartet in B flat, Opus 130) – possibly the greatest piece of music ever written – was mighty and transcendent. Vibrato arrived. The orchestra rose to the occasion with a magnificent, impassioned intensity – gaining in body and majesty, urgency and vitality, and the sensitivity and capacity to affect. The difference was telling. Yet this was still a very spare piece of work. Its debt to J.S. Bach and to the baroque style was resounding and apparent.

The Mendelssohn concerto, written as a domestic work – as, in effect, chamber music with augmented strings – was most engaging, if rather too long. Gottfried von der Goltz, playing with ample vibrato, dominated the proceedings, with a very pure tone and style. The thinner sounds of Andreas Staier’s fortepiano was frequently subdued or lost in his non-solo passages – overpowered even by von der Goltz’s violin. However Staier’s accomplished and sensitive virtuosity was never in doubt, well deserving the acclaim that followed his encore – nothing less than the slow movement of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.4 – this movement also requiring ‘just’ strings and in which the orchestra’s accompaniment was sterling.

There followed a late-night recital, in the Purcell Room, which featured “The Dowland Project”, an intriguing alternative to ‘authentic’ and ‘historically informed’ performance. The group performs songs by John Dowland (1563-1626) with a knowingly inauthentic accompaniment that nevertheless respects the original melodies and illuminates them. The consequence, the Project hopes, is to catch the attention of new listeners and give performers on ‘inauthentic’ instruments (including those devised later than the Elizabethan era) the opportunity to play this ravishing music – with controlled commentary and meditation.

John Potter sings with pure, controlled tone – rather remotely, perhaps as though from the minstrels’ gallery, but with attention to words and melodic form and a caring perfection. ‘Inauthentic’ commentary occurs between one stanza and the next forming a counterpoint to a repeat of Susanna Pell’s ‘authentic’ accompaniment on the bass viol. I heard a Spanish style on the lute, for example – and romantic soliloquies from the violin. Intrusive and delightful interpolations came from John Surman’s bass clarinet and soprano saxophone – a series of grunts, gurgles and melodies, of wails, shrieks and laments, of abrupt rhythmic throwaways and longer, challenging pronouncements.

I relished Dowland’s melodies and the contrapuntal commentaries. I nevertheless became restive, due to a degree of sameness between one song and another. These songs were not intended to be heard one after another, for an hour at a stretch. There’s a fundamental organisational difficulty here.

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