Opera + Classical Music Reviews

PSM 3: Apollo’s Fire / Sorrell @ Cadogan Hall, London

15 August 2015

On Saturday afternoon, Apollo’s Fire under director Jeanette Sorrell presented a performance of a baroque programme that would have excited any audience – in 1982. It was a creditable performance had it been during the glory years of The English Concert, but there are many baroque bands around in 2015 producing much more snap, crackle and pop, and much of the concert remained uninspiring.

A large part of the programme was based around items that might have been presented at Gottfried Zimmermann’s Coffee House in Leipzig around 1730, although it began with a work outside the period – C P E Bach’s Symphony for Strings in B minor, one of the Hamburg symphonies.

It is quite possible that there would have been no room in Zimmermann’s Coffee House for the whimsical style of conducting favoured by Sorrell – with an ethereal gesture here and a wiggle of the fingers there, interspersed with dramatic sniffing, she over-gesticulated her way through nearly the entire concert, occasionally adding a few bars from the harpsichord when she felt the band could be trusted to manage without her. The band responded reasonably well, and there were some moments of near-excitement in the excerpts from Telemann’s Burlesque de Quixote – some arpeggio pulses from the baroque guitar at the Don’s Réveil; a few moderately quiet sighs in Ses soupirs and Sancho Panza being artfully bumped in his blanket – but the performance was worthy rather than thrilling (and there were occasional slips in intonation).

The ensemble was joined by the violinist Alina Ibragimova for two violin concerti: Vivaldi’s D-major L’inquietudine (in which the band and soloist managed to raise an atmosphere of only mild discomfort) and the Bach E-major concerto (which, apart from some elegantly turned phrase endings in which the other players left the solo violin to finish on her own, was given an unremarkable performance).

As with last week’s violin soloist at the Saturday baroque matinee, the performance was accomplished (although there were one or two notes that sounded under pitch), and the pyrotechnic passages in the Vivaldi well performed. But as with last week, the audience was insulted with a total disregard for its presence; Ibragimova stood side-on to the audience with her eyes glued to the mess of music on the stand in front of her, with a lack of any kind of engagement with those for whom she was playing.

It was in the final performance of the afternoon – J S Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 – that the performers finally came alive. There was no direction (Sorrell was playing the concertino-group harpsichord part), and the entire performance was guided by the intuitive communication between Apollo’s Fire’s concert master, Olivier Braut and the flautist Kathie Stewart.

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PSM 3: Apollo’s Fire / Sorrell @ Cadogan Hall, London