Opera + Classical Music Reviews

A Bach Family Celebration @ Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, London

7 September 2014

Trevor Pinnock

Trevor Pinnock

This ‘Bach weekend’ found us in two completely contrasting venues – the vast space of the Royal Albert Hall for Saturday’s St Matthew Passion, and the tiny, intimate chamber that is the Wanamaker Playhouse for this recital of music by Bach, one of his sons, and that son’s godfather. The events were linked by more than the composer, however, in that one of the soloists at the Playhouse was also one of the members of the Berliner Philharmoniker who had played so superbly the previous night, and during the recital Trevor Pinnock reminded us that Bach had been fined for writing too operatically in the SMP!

As always, the Playhouse was packed to the rafters with a wonderfully varied group – if one of those miserable people who are constantly wittering on about how classical music is dead, dying, or of interest only to ‘the old’ could be bothered to venture out to Southwark for one of these recitals, they’d find an audience composed of all age groups, with plenty of young people in the mix. It’s not just the perfect little theatre which attracts, of course, but the superlative quality of the musicianship and the sheer exuberance with which the works are presented. Young people love that – they don’t want to be condescended to with watered-down bits and pieces, and they most certainly don’t want to be insulted with the implication that ‘crossover’ is what they really like.

Trevor Pinnock is not only one of the world’s greatest keyboard virtuosi but the perfect presenter – he makes you feel that you are a guest at a warmly welcoming family gathering, without condescension yet providing just enough information to enable you to see familiar works in a new light. The tone is jovial, yet with musical knowledge presumed, and each piece is given its own short background, so that you could not help but feel that you had not just enjoyed the music but were able to appreciate it in a new light.

Pinnock has recently recorded the flute concertos of CPE Bach with Emmanuel Pahud, and their close collaboration was a delight; you were always conscious of two virtuosi challenging each other to produce the most vivid, engaging performances. In both the exquisite Flute Sonata in A minor (Wq 132) of CPE Bach, and the Sonata in E major BWV 1035 of JS, there was ample evidence for the belief that the transverse flute is one of the most difficult instruments to play well, and that in Emmanuel Pahud we were hearing someone who has completely mastered it. Both flautist and harpsichordist were equalled in prowess by Matthew Truscott’s accomplished violin and Jonathan Manson’s warmly supportive ‘cello, most eloquently in JS Bach’s trio Sonata in C minor from A Musical Offering where the ensemble succeeded in making this very challenging music seem easy.

In JS Bach’s Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue in D minor Pinnock demonstrated that when it comes to the harpsichord there are very few players who can approach his brilliance of technique and innate understanding of the instrument, and in the concert’s final piece, Telemann’s Concerto primo from the Nouveaux Quatuors, the group played with the kind of verve and sheer enjoyment which had the audience buzzing. This was the last in the ‘Pinnock’s Passions’ series, but there are many more musical delights to come over the next few months, including concerts featuring the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, the Brodsky Quartet, Ian Bostridge and the Tenebrae Consort.

Details of further concerts can be found here: shakespearesglobe.com/theatre/whats-on/sam-wanamaker-playhouse

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A Bach Family Celebration @ Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, London
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