OAE: The Brandenburgs

Bach: Brandenburg Concertos
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
St John’s, Smith Square. 2 May 2017

It is not that often that all six Brandenburg Concertos are performed in one concert. One issue is the logistics of gathering so many instrumentalists together, several for just one piece. Another is the length, in this case overrunning an ambitious estimate by some 20 minutes. On this occasions, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment performed the six concertos in the sensible order of 1, 3, 5 interval 4, 6, 2, providing some key contrast, and saving the most powerful concerto to the end. There had been some shifting of personal before the start of the concert, with the former second violinist Huw Daniel stepping up to concertmaster to replace the indisposed Pavlo Beznosiuk, and Naomi Burrell stepping in to take his place in the line up.

Despite the potential pitfalls, this was one of the finest performances of the Brandenburgs that I have heard, live or on CD. With no conductor, the focus of the musicians was on each other, helped by subtle and musical direction from Huw Daniel, leader in five concertos, and Simone Jandle, viola, in No 6. With soloists drawn from the OAE stable, the sense of mutual support was strong. Although the OAE’s ‘usual suspects’ were on show, the violinists were not from the usual line-up, with none of the OAE’s leaders playing. Unfortunate as it was that the planned leader, Pavlo Beznosiuk, was not available, it gave Huw Daniel, a younger violinist I have been impressed with since his student days, a chance to show his mettle, which he did magnificently.

The programme booklet included profiles of no fewer that 16 of the OAE players and their instruments, showing the extent of the soloists featured in the programme. With so many, it is perhaps invidious to pick out individual contributions, but their were some very worthy of a special mention. First, of course, was violinist Huw Daniel, not just for some inspired violin playing, but also for his impeccable direction – his timing of the jovial little plonk at the end of Concerto 3 was spot on. Stand in violinist Naomi Burrell also had some prominent moments, notably in the opening first Concerto. Horn players always deserve special mention, but Roger Montgomery and Nicholas Benz were particularly impressive in Concerto 1. Steven Devine’s extended harpsichord solo in Concerto 5 was one of the evening’s highlights, performed with stylistic panache, perfectly recreating Bach’s explosion of the harpsichord out of its accompanying role to a mainstream solo instrument.

David Blackadder did the trumpeter thing of coming on for the very last piece and stealing the show, but in this case it was for the delicacy of his playing of the highest reaches of the F-pitched trumpet. Viola player Simone Jandle impressed on several occasions, but notably in Concerto 6, where she led the orchestra. Luise Buchberger, cello, and Cecelia Bruggenmeyer, bass were two of the three players (along with harpsichordist Steven Devine) who played in all six Concertos and deserve a mention for sheer stamina, with Luise Buchberger also having some very prominent moments in several movements.

This was one of the Southbank concerts that would normally have been performed at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, currently under reconstruction. St John’s, Smith Square was understandable packed.


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