AAM: Italy in England

Italy in England: When Handel met Corelli
Academy of Ancient Music, Bojan Čičić, Frank de Bruine,
Milton Court. 19 October 2017

Corelli Concerto Grosso in D major Op. 6 No. 4
Handel Concerto for Oboe No. 3 in G minor
Geminiani Concerto Grosso Op. 5 No. 3 (after Corelli)
GB Sammartini Sinfonia in G major
Avison Concerto Grosso in D minor No 3 ‘The garden of harmony’ (after Scarlatti)
G Sammartini Concerto for Oboe in E flat major
Handel Concerto Grosso Op. 6 No. 5

Aided by some excellent programme notes by Lindsay Kemp, we were led gently through an exploration of the influence of Italian musicians, notably Corelli, on performers and composers in England during the 18th century, many of whom were themselves, immigrants. The opening Corelli Concerto Grosso demonstrated the influence of the concerto grosso form. The opening Adagio is written in the score as nine simple chords, but Bojan Čičić’s beautifully elegant violin flourishes turned it into a complete musical experience and demonstrated the importance of ornamentation in music of this period. Directing the Academy of Ancient Music from the leader’s position Čičić demonstrated his extraordinary musicianship, the delicacy of his violin tone always blending with the orchestral timbre, even when in a clear solo role – a very welcome change from violinist directors whose sound dominated their companions. As a director, his sense of timing and the cooperative way he worked with his companions were an inspiration. An example was the timing of the final ‘that’s it folks’ cadence of the opening Concerto grosso – a lovely moment after a frenetic movement where all the players seemed to be bowing as fast as they possibly could. 

Handel’s Oboe Concerto No. 3 in G minor is not his finest work, and was probably put together by his publishers from isolated movements. Composed in his Hamburg youth, it came before any influence from Corelli. Frank de Bruine made the best of it, but was far more successful in the later Giuseppe Sammartini Oboe Concerto in E flat major, showing the influence of Handel’s more mature style, even though some of the writing was rather formulaic.

It was good to hear a Concerto grosso by the Newcastle-based Charles Avison, a rare example of a leading composer who didn’t live in London. His orchestral arrangement of Domenico Scarlatti quirky harpsichord pieces was surprisingly successful. The AAM players were on their usual top form, with particularly impressive contributions from cellist Sarah McMahon and violinist Rebecca Livermore who often partnered Bojan Čičić.

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