Hartmann and Bergius Delight Audiences in Far-Flung Venues

United KingdomUnited Kingdom  Geminiani, Fux, Tartini, Bach: Rebekka Hartmann (violin) & Caroline Bergius (harpsichord), Menheniot Church, Cornwall, UK. 25.5.2012 (PRB)

Geminiani: Sonata in E minor, Op 1 No 3
Fux: Capriccio in G minor, K 404
Tartini: Sonata in G minor (Devil’s Trill)
Bach: Partita in E major, BWV 1005
Sonata No 5 in F minor, BWV 1018

Munich born violinist Rebekka Hartmann has won several national and international prizes in her homeland, including the Jascha Heifetz Scholarship and the ‘Pacem in Terris’ Competition, and now performs worldwide. Her recent Naxos-released CD on the ‘Solo Musica’ label – ‘The Birth of the Violin’, a compilation of rarely-heard works for solo violin – received critical acclaim, and future plans include more recordings.

Harpsichordist, Caroline Bergius, was born in Scotland, and studied at Trinity College, London, before being awarded a German Academic Exchange Scholarship for further study at Munich’s Hochschule für Musik. She went on to specialise in providing chamber-music courses for young instrumentalists in Germany and on the Isle of Berneray, in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides, and where Hartmann often took part as a child. In 2011 Bergius was awarded the ‘Bundesverdienstkreuz’ (Federal Order of Merit) for services to music in Germany.

Given such musical pedigrees, it might seem strange that their latest collaboration should take them to an albeit charming little village-church in Cornwall, South West England. Yet this and the other three venues on this UK mini-tour is, in fact, a tribute to those selflessly diligent classical-music aficionados, often working with little real support, who strive to bring quality live music-making to small communities, which would otherwise need to travel long distances to the nearest large conurbation.

In the event, even if it had been one of the hottest days so far, this performance of Baroque works managed to crank up the temperature somewhat more.

Opening with Geminiani’s E minor Sonata, from his Op 1 set, both instruments combined perfectly with the glorious tone of the 1675 Stradivarius soaring effortlessly over the rich and varied harpsichord accompaniment, both in the highly-expressive slow sections and with such neat articulation in the fast movements.

The concept of balancing a solo violin piece in the second half with one for harpsichord alone early on, of course makes for good programme planning. But on this occasion, Fux’s Capriccio in G minor did prove slightly overlong, and with rather insufficient variety to hold the listener’s attention throughout, despite Bergius’s stalwart efforts in the use of different registrations.

But a truly high-octane performance of Tartini’s Devil’s Trill Sonata quickly dispelled any sense of somnolence, where Hartmann cast aside the immense technical challenges with great panache, in a performance which so seamlessly combined the best of Baroque practices with true Romantic spirit without transgressing any stylistic boundaries along the way.

Bach’s solo Partita in E proved another of the evening’s highlights, where Hartmann brought fresh inspiration and insight to an otherwise well-aired work, and successfully managed the vital need to convey the metrical sense, without the assistance of any accompaniment.

The composer’s four-movement F minor Sonata, and a nippy little Handel Allegrofrom the Sonata in A, Op 1 No 3, by way of a generous encore, rounded off this most agreeable evening that really seemed as much about two well-respected musicians playing together, as about long-standing friends simply enjoying making music – to the obvious delight of the large audience.

Philip R Buttall