Opera + Classical Music Reviews

OAE/Cummings @ Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

4 March 2012

It should come as no surprise that the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightenment inaugurated their series of spring concerts entitled Baroque Giants, with an evening devoted to Bach. The programme notes state that Johann Sebastian Bach was music’s most sublime and creative genius, and who are we to argue with that? Here was a chance to experience four examples of that — two of his Orchestral Suites, his Violin Concerto in E and the 5th Brandenburg Concerto.

Pushed to find an adjective that would best sum up Bach’s music, most listeners might suggest ‘serious’ and they wouldn’t be wrong. Bach was not renowned for penning jocular ditties, so having both these infectious Orchestral Suites on the programme gave the listener two stunning examples of Bach’s ability to compose works that are best described as hailing from the lighter side of the creative spectrum. Both Suites exude an infectious spirit of jollity, love for life, and Laurence Cummings, conducting from the harpsichord, delivered perfectly judged performances.

The playing of the OAE was exemplary from start to finish; not only did the famous second movement in the 3rd Suite, known to virtually everyone on the Planet thanks to violinist August Wilhemj’s famous Air on the G string transcription, sound fresh and was never dawdled over, but the ensuing dances – Gavotte, Bourée and Gigue had plenty of rhythmic vitality.

Matthew Truscott was the nimble soloist in the 2nd Violin Concerto, digitally dexterous in the final movement having plumbed the depths of soul-searching in the exquisite Adagio.

After the interval Cummings led a spirited performance of the 5th Brandenburg Concerto, producing musical fireworks at the harpsichord in the famous cadenza which concludes the first movement, whilst Lisa Beznosiuk’s flute playing was delicate, nuanced and blended well with Truscott on the violin. A vivacious performance of the 4th Orchestral Suite brought this joyous evening of Bach to a suitably thrilling conclusion, and certainly whetted the appetite for the remaining concerts in this Spring season devoted to Baroque Giants.

Further details of Queen Elizabeth Hall concerts can be found at southbankcentre.co.uk

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