French Splendour & Italian Virtuosity

‘French Splendour & Italian Virtuosity in Baroque Music’
Michal Rogalski, oboe, Katarz
yna Kowalik, harpsichord, Kate Conway, cello & viol
Music in New Malden. 9 October 2016

Whatever the success of their performing, academic, or teaching careers, for many musicians one of the most important aspect of their musical life is their involvement in local musical activities, for example, setting up and running local music festivals and events. An example of the latter is the Music in New Malden (MiNM) series of concerts, founded by Jane Booth and John Irving in 2009. Held in New Malden Methodist Church, the annual series of Sunday afternoon concerts feature professional musicians and generally focus on early music and historical performance. Admission is free, but there is a retiring collection for a range of designated charities, so far raising over £9000 for Macmillan Cancer Care, Dementia UK, Home Farm Trust, Princess Alice Hospice, Disasters Emergency Committee, Jessie’s Fund and others.

The 2016/17 series ranges from solo piano to a choir and orchestra. It opened on 9 October with a concert (by Michal Rogalski, oboe, Katarzyna Kowalik, harpsichord, and Kate Conway, cello & viol) comparing French and Italian compositional and performing style in the Baroque era. Attempts to bring these two styles together were the focus of many composers of the period.

The initial comparison was between Vivaldi and Couperin, the former with his Oboe Sonata in g (RV 28), the latter with the Premier Concert Royaux. The Vivaldi is likely to have been composed for an oboist in the Dresden court. Couperin wrote his four Concert Royaux for the French court of Louis IV at around the same time (c1722). No instrumentation was specified in the publication, and they are written in the form of solo harpsichord pieces, although otherwise superfluous continuo figures suggest performance with other instruments.

Similar contrasts were explored in two harpsichord solos by Katarzyna Kowalik. In the first (French) piece, her ability to integrate the complex ornaments into the melodic line, together with her very effective rhythmic flexibility, made for a very musical performance. It was nicely balanced by a more lively D. Scarlatti piece.

The remaining two pieces for all three players compared Sammartini’s Oboe Sonata in B flat with Marin Marais’s set of 32 variations on Les Folies d’Espagne, originally intended for a solo viola da gamba with another acting as bass., but here played as an oboe solo with gamba and harpsichord continuo. The Sammartini included some impressive cello playing from Kate Conway, notably in the two central movements. But, as is so often the case with continuo players, her role in the concert (and, to an extent, Katarzyna Kowalik’s) was otherwise rather overpowered by the solo oboe playing of Michal Rogalski, who acted as soloist in all four pieces. It would have been nice to have something for solo viola da gamba or cello.

As well as the contrast between the French and Italian styles of Baroque composers, there was also a fascinating contrast of performance styles between two players steeped in the IMG_0871interpretation techniques of the Baroque era (both playing appropriate copies of period instruments) and a modern oboe played in a rather less than authentic manner. Apart from the dominant tone and volume of the oboe (which would not have been the case with a Baroque oboe), aspects such as the length of phrases and articulation of notes were also noticeably different from that heard from the other two players. The concert included some elements of an illustrated lecture recital in the form of detailed introductions to the pieces from oboist Michal Rogalski.

The afternoon finished, as is the practice in this series, with tea and cake. The size of the audience reflected the reputation that Music in New Malden has established over the years. Further concerts in the series are usually on the second Sunday of the month, starting at 3pm. More information can be found at https://musicinnewmalden.wordpress.com/.

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