New Year’s Eve Brandenburg Concertos

The Six Brandenburg Concertos

The King’s Consort
Robert King (harpsichord)

Reviewed by: Kenneth Carter

Reviewed: 31 December, 2006
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

New Year’s Eve and the Wigmore Hall was packed solid. Beginning at 7 o’clock and finishing just after 9.30, people had enough time to go elsewhere to celebrate the strokes at midnight.

What was the draw? Bach? All six Brandenburg Concertos – how often are they played in a single session? The King’s Consort? Robert King? All of these, probably.

The Brandenburg Concertos burst with joy and delight. Each one is in a major key. This is music written for us to enjoy – audience and performers alike.

The King’s Consort is smooth and accomplished. There is a sweet succulence to the violins and an agile springiness to the cellos and double bass, a plangent soprano to the recorders and a warm, sweet breath to the flute. From the oboes and the bassoon I heard the countryside of open summer. These period instruments sounded ‘lived in’ – and were played with sinuous, engaging precision. The players were openly relaxed and enjoying their work. Speeds were fast, ensemble exemplary and vibrato virtually absent. Decoration sounded spontaneous and elegantly supplementary.

What singles out The King’s Consort from other such groups in this field is supple ‘charm’ – not a word that comes readily to mind when considering ‘period’ instrument groups. In the TKC’s hands and mouths, Bach’s baroque ravishes and tickles the ear.

How is this charm achieved, I wondered. A first answer must be that this is the sound that Robert King demands (or has the magnetism to inspire). His hallmarks are resplendence and allure. Under his instruction performances are dashing. Consider the speeds: robust and vigorous, yet with no sense of haste and always with a sense of phrasing. Notes relate to each other, even plucked notes springing from the ground bass. Moreover, speeds never felt uncomfortable for the players. Particular examples were the virtuoso playing of both movements in No.3 and the astonishing trumpet solos (from Neil Brough) in the outer movements of No.2.

There is certainly an engaging lilt and softness to TKC that is utterly beguiling; ‘European’ rather than ‘English’ – suggesting that Robert King welcomes his players’ variety of training to achieve a particularly rich quality of musical discipline.

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