Suonare è danzare

Suonare è danzare
Academy of Ancient Music, Laurence Cummings, Bojan Čičić
Live from West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge. 12 February 2020

Muffat Armonico Tributo Sonata in G
Bach Sonata in E minor for violin and keyboard, BWV 1023
Telemann Concerto polonoise in B flat major
Handel  Sonata in G Op.5, No.4

It is often said by music commentators that practically all Baroque music is fundamentally based on dance. Dance was certainly a key part of 18th century life, a fundamental part of the education system, and underpinned many aspets pf social and political discourse. This is the first of a three-concert mini-festival from AAM Live 2021, live-streamed (via ticket purchase) from their Cambridge home in the West Road Concert Hall. The Acadamy of Ancient Music under Laurence Cummings (pictured), their Music Director designate, directing from the harpishcord, joined with the AAM leader, violinist Bojan Čičić for a programme of music in celebration of dance.

Georg Muffat was one of the most influential and cosmapolitan of late 17th-century composers. Early training in Paris and Rome, combined with posts in Prague and Vienna, led to his ability to absorbe the styles of France, Italy and Germany influenced by the likes of Lully, Pasquini and Corelli. He settled in the Archbishops Court in Salzburg alongside Biber where the set of five Sonatas he had composed in Rome was published in 1682 as Armonico Tributo. The fifth Sonata concludes with a grand Passacaglia, with four short movements providing an introduction. The Passacaglia had come a long way since its early dance incarnation, and was a musical form that survives through all the following musical periods up to the present day. Essentially a set of variations on a repeated bass theme, the nature of the form gives a fine sense of structure and identity. Muffat’s example is one of the finest of the Baroque era, notably through his use of a repeated refrain in the French style.

Bach, of course, was also able to combine the music of different nationalities into his music, as his E minor Sonata for violin and continuo demonstrates with its combination of German and Italian genres. There is some doubt as to whether Bach was actually the composer – the manuscript is not in his hand and is dated 1730. The opening Preludio is a sequence of free-style improvisatory violin figurations over a single bass note which leads into an Adagio ma non tanto, and Allemande and a concluding Gigue. Bojan Čičić proved outstanding at articulating the musical line, notably in the opening Preludio. Lawrence Cummings provided sensitive harpsichord continuo realisations while cellist Sarah McMahon provided the bass support.

Telemann and Bach were in regular contact. To the national influences of Muffat and Bach, he added Poland, where he lived between 1705/6, and whose folk music influenced many of his later pieces, including this Concerto polonoise. Telemann described Polish folk music as having a ‘barbaric beauty and the four movements of this concerto reflect that in their strong rhythms.

Laurence Cummings described Handel’s Sonata in G as a Baroque ‘greatest hits’, with its combination of recycled music from Athalia, Radamisto, Terpsichore, and Alcina. Whether Handel had much say in the piece is debatable as it was pubished by Walsh (1739) who had a habit of collecting bits of Handel together for publication without much input from Handel himself. The central Passcaglia with its reminder of the opening Muffat piece made this a nice bit of prorgramme planning.

Performed in an empty concert hall without an audience to absorb some of the sound, the acoustic was perhaps a little too lively and the inevitable fringe noises from the stages a little too obvious, but this was nonethe less a fine concert. There were problems with the sound quality when I heard it live, but the recording has been registered with better sound.

The arrival of Laurence Cummings as Musical Director is an important step for the Academy of Ancient Music. His sensitive and intensly musical style of directing is an inspiration.