Scottish Ensemble – Handel, C. P. E. Bach & Brahms

Concerto Grosso in B flat, Op.6/7
C. P. E. Bach
Cello Concerto in A minor, Wq170
Brahms arr. Morton
String Quintet No.2 in G, Op.111

Raphael Wallfisch (cello)

Scottish Ensemble
Jonathan Morton (violin)

Reviewed by: Robert Matthew-Walker

Reviewed: 24 April, 2008
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

The Scottish Ensemble is always welcome in London, and this fascinating programme proved no exception to the rule. Betraying the baroque provenance of the opening work, the musicians generally approximated to the modern notion of playing such music without vibrato, although from time to time the natural lure of vibrato proved too great to resist. Not that this, of itself, presented so great a stylistic dichotomy, for this magnificent composition – one of the less well-known of the twelve that make up Handel’s published Opus 6 – was given a really fine performance of notable musical insight, demonstrating a shared sense of the endless variety of his rhythmic patterns, with their deliciously misplaced accents, which give Handel’s music so much inner life.

Raphael WallfischRaphael Wallfisch was the superb soloist in C. P. E. Bach’s Cello Concerto in A minor – a very remarkable work, especially in the extended first movement – a performance where the mixture of vibrato and non-vibrato actually gave genuine character to the music, as one might expect from a score dating from the middle of the 18th-century. It has been said that C.P.E.’s style is too-easy, one in which anything can happen, but at times, as in this work, it produced some extraordinarily compelling music.

In the concert’s second half we heard director Jonathan Morton’s fascinating and convincing transcription for 14 solo strings of Brahms’s 1891 String Quintet in G. Especially in the brilliant 9/8 first movement, one felt that the composer himself would have given his enthusiastic approval – for Brahms published a piano-duet version of this work at the same time as the string version. Clearly, Brahms felt the need at some point for a textural expansion of the music, and Morton’s arrangement is very successful in every respect. At times, Morton reduced the strength to the original solo texture, demonstrating his unfailing respect for an unjustly neglected masterpiece. This was exceptional music-making.

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