London Festival of Baroque Music – Day 1

‘Women in Baroque Music’
London Festival of Baroque Music
St John’s, Smith Square, 15 May 2015

This long weekend of Baroque music was both a 1st  and a 31st  event. The first event of the new London Festival of Baroque Music, and the 31st of a continuing festival that had hitherto been known as the Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music. The Lufthansa Festival was an extraordinary example of collaboration between a sponsor (that in latter years also included Rolls Royce) and a music festival. Shorn of the funding of a major international sponsor, the LFBM_cropfirst London Festival of Baroque Music inevitably revealed its reduced financial resources, covering an 5-day extended weekend rather than earlier 8 or more days, and with a reduction in the number of groups from outside the UK. But a wealth of individual sponsors and some crowd-funding through social media has come up with the wherewithal to make for a rich and fulfilling series of concerts. And a capacity audience for the opening concert in St John’s, Smith Square showed the strength of public support.

The traditional opening Festival Talk was given by Dr Berta Joncus of Goldsmiths, University of London (Friday 15 May). She reflected the festival theme of Women in Baroque Music with her comments on the story of how women were both rejected as well cajoled into becoming musicians. Rejection came from the Catholic church and most Courts, but encouragement came from the initiative of women themselves, from certain female patrons and the apparent curiosity value of female prodigies and the likes of Vivaldi’s Pietà girls.

The opening concert was something of a flagship event with a rare visit to the UK of Bach Collegium Japan, with their director Masaaki Suzuki and the outstanding young Hungarian soprano Hana Blažíková. In keeping with the festival theme, Hana Blažíková sang three Bach soprano cantatas, starting with Mein Herze schwimmt im Blut (BWV 199). With her superb sense of communication, a pure and focused voice, precise articulation and perfect intonation (without the safety net of vibrato) she caught the mood (and bodily incorporated the persona) of the naive innocence of Bach’s guilt-ridden ‘troubled child’ perfectly. This is Bach as psychotherapist, as the poor child’s sin-sodden mind is finally relieved when God (who presumably filled her with guilt in the first place) no longer ‘denies me bliss’ or ‘closes his heart to me’. There was a palpable sense of relief in the rollicking final aria ‘How joyful is my heart’. Hana Blažíková also caught a similar sense of the underlying mood in the concluding Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen! (BWV 51), again with a sense of the child-like innocence of the central movements, in sharp contrast to the surrounding movements with their key trumpet moments, well-played here by Rudolf Lörinc.

Bach Collegium Japan (3 violins, viola, cello, bass, oboe, trumpet, harpsichord/organ) opened with Bach’s Double Violin Concerto (BWV 104). Ryo Terakado and Yukie Yamaguchi were soloists, beautifully integrating their own sound with each other and with their fellow players. Masaaki Suzuki directed with a sense of the lilt of the melodic line. His use of ritardando was interesting, one of many issues in early music performance where thinking has changed over the years. He closed the first movement with a short, but clear rit. (as opposed to the often heard rallantando), but retained the pulse of the final movement through to the end.

The concert was completed by the Concerto in C minor for oboe and violin (BWV 1060r), with Masamitsu San’nomiya as oboe soloist,  and two of the twelve stanzas of the only surviving example of a Bach strophic aria, Alles mit Gott und nichts ohn’ ihn, a cantata only re-discovered in 2005. Written in 1713 for the birthday of the Duke of Weimer, it opens with a 52-note cello solo, representing the years of the Duke’s life. The first line is the Duke’s motto, and is repeated at the end of each verse, which then dissolves into a richly textured instrumental ritornello. Yet again, Hana Blažíková showed herself well up to the technical demands.

One thought on “London Festival of Baroque Music – Day 1

  1. Excellent review and agree with everything Andrew says. It is so refreshing to have a soprano who can sing stylishly in the way that matches early music instrumental playing. The excuse usually given is that you need voibrato with larger halls but Ms Blazikova did not seem to need it this large space. I did notice the ritardandos and wondered whether scholarship has changed, because not long ago the scholars thought that these should be minimised. Has more recent scholarship restored them? I must admit to feeling some discomfort with quite exaggerated slowing down at the ends of movements.

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