SJSS: Muffat Festival

Muffat Festival
The Brook Street Band
St John’s, Smith Square, 25 February 2018

With four concerts, a dance workshop and a talk spread over a weekend, the St John’s, Smith Square Muffat Festival focussed on Georg Muffat (1653-1704), that most innovative of composers, and the music that both influenced him and was, in turn, influenced by him. Curiously, of the 26 works played during the weekend, only six were actually by Muffat, a sadly missed opportunity to highlight more of his music, much of which is underperformed. The first concert (23 February) concentrated on the German Violin School, with pieces by Schmelzer, Biber and Krieger following the opening Muffat Sonata 2 from his 1682 Armonico Tributo. Dance was the focus of the second concert (24 February), with Muffat sharing the honours with Lully, Handel and Bach. The Italian Influence was explored in the first of two Sunday concerts (25 February), with pieces by Corelli and Handel and a Muffat Violin Sonata. The weekend finished with a focus on the Concerto, with more Bach and Handel along with Geminiani, all at least one generation younger that Muffat. It concluded with Muffat’s Sonata No. 5 in G from Armonico Tributo with its extraordinary extended concluding Passacaglia – one of the highlights of Muffat’s orchestral output. 

The concluding concert opened with Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, the tiny central two-chord Adagio treated with a simple violin flourish. Handel’s Sonata a cinque (HWV288) is one of his less successful compositions from his otherwise very inventive time in Italy, although it has an interestingly chromatic central Adagio and some lively writing for the violin soloist, on this occasion, Rachel Harris. Handel’s later Concerto Grosso (Op6/10) is far more imaginative. It was one of the pieces that were re-constituted, probably by Walsh, as an organ concerto, in the little-known ‘Second Set’. Between the two Handel pieces came Geminiani’s Concerto Grosso No. 12 in D minor, a reinterpretation of Corelli’s variations on La Follia(Op5/12).

The 12-strong orchestra of the expanded Brook Street Band coped well with the demands of the repertoire, although there were moments of intonational and cohesion weakness, no doubt the result of having to rehearse for so many concerts in such a short time. The festival was curated by Tatty Theo, who acknowledged the work of Carolyn Gibley in editing and preparing all the music. She was also an impressive harpsichord continuo player, providing just the right amount of support without interfering.

As well as the surprising paucity of music by Muffat, the pieces that were performed came from a rather limited range of his music. One particular omission was any examples, or, indeed, and mention at all, of his keyboard music for organ or harpsichord. Examples of this could easily have been incorporated into one or more of the weekend’s events.

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