No strangers to Bach marathons, the English Baroque Soloists and John Eliot Gardiner kicked off Bach Day by performing all six of the composers Brandenburg Concertos as the first two of this years BBC Proms matinees at Cadogan Hall.
These chamber works actually only amount to around two hours of music, so even performed complete, they are less demanding for audiences and performers than one of the Passions, the complete Christmas Oratorio or one book of The Well-Tempered Clavier.
Gardiner began with the first of the set, the only of the six with four movements and a multi-sectioned finale with repeated minuet. He placed the skippish horns in the gallery high above the stage for the first movement, where they were able to play havoc with the rustic dancing of the other instruments, before bringing them squarely down to earth to continue their disruptive contribution. Ive never heard them so out of sync with the ensemble, which seems to have been the intention.
This frolicsome piece was followed by the final concerto, the mellow, tightly-structured and deeply contrasting sixth with its refined simplicity and affecting sonority. The recorders and violin vied for attention with the encroaching harpsichord in the fourth (more evident here than in most of the works and foreshadowing its major role in the concerto to come) to close the first concert.
As always with this great ensemble of soloists, the music-making was alert and direct throughout, wonderfully expressive and buoyantly dynamic. Gardiner maintained a discreet presence, keeping a delicate balance and steady pulse while conducting three of the six and leaving the musicians to themselves for the remainder.
The order of play for the second concert was the third (G Major), with Kati Debretzeni contributing a lively violin cadenza between the two movements, the driving fifth (Malcolm Proud the superb harpsichordist) and ending with the blazing glory of the brassy second, with Neil Brough a triumphant trumpet solo.
Hearing all these amazing works together emphasises the wonderfully varied textures and combinations of instruments which show off Bachs stupefying virtuosity and inventiveness to perfection. JEG contributed an interesting commentary between pieces, adding to a morning that was light-hearted and good-natured, with the composer at something close to his most joyous.