Plymouth Enjoys Flawless Bach Double Concerto by Latchem and Hayek

United KingdomUnited Kingdom  Handel, Telemann, Bach: David Shead (trumpet), Jonathan Watts (piano), Malcolm Latchem and Caroline Hayek (violins), Ten Tors Chamber Orchestra, Simon Ible (conductor) , Sherwell Centre, Plymouth University. 11.5. 2012 (PRB)

Handel: Suite in D for Trumpet, Strings and Continuo
Telemann: Suite: Les nations anciennes et modernes
Bach: Piano Concerto in F minor
Telemann: Concert in D for Trumpet, Strings and Continuo
Bach: Concerto for Two Violins in D minor

Rather like the humble egg or potato, one of the nicest things about Baroque music is that, however you serve it up – from the historically-informed approach usually on period instruments to a more full-blooded Romantic view, or simply one which seeks to the combine the supposed best of both worlds – it usually makes for a satisfactory outcome.

Conductor, Simon Ible, Director of Music at Peninsula Arts, the public arts provider of Plymouth University, is a past master of inventive programming, and this highly-effective mix of the familiar and less-familiar preceded by the now-customary introductions – entertaining confections of historical fact and amusing anecdote – proved a winning combination.

Opening with Handel’s D major Suite, this provided a bright and breezy start to the evening, with trumpeter, David Shead, showing himself eminently able to cope with the high-octane tessitura, after just a slight settling-in period.

Telemann’s somewhat quirky Suite: Les nations anciennes et modernes afforded an interesting interlude, by way of a contemporary musical examination of any perceived differences between the more ponderous ‘ancient’, and racier ‘modern’ German, Swedish and Danish musical styles. While the players clearly depicted each movement, with its respective idiosyncrasy, the closing movement – Les vieilles femmes – seemed somewhat overly drawn out, which, with the excessive use of chromaticism intended to convey the constant whining of these senior matriarchs, made for a rather less-than-satisfying conclusion to the work overall.

The Ten Tors Chamber Orchestra, the resident ensemble of Peninsula Arts, isn’t a period-instrument outfit, nor does it seek to adopt specific contemporary playing practices when delivering Baroque repertoire. While the stage could accommodate a harpsichord of sufficient dimensions for continuo use, this was simply not up to the task of acting as solo instrument in Bach’s Keyboard Concerto in F minor. While soloist, Jonathan Watts’s articulate and well-shaped performance on the in-situ Steinway Grand sought to convey every nuance of the score, and was especially effective in the expressive Largo, the harpsichord’s distinctive timbre might still have been the worthier protagonist – particularly in the outer movements, where the swiftly-moving passage-work would have stood out more in relief,.

Telemann’s Trumpet Concerto in D further demonstrated Shead’s facility in achieving neatly-articulated runs at fast tempi, but there were also many opportunities to show off a well-rounded tone, and which was evident at both ends of the volume scale.

However, it was Bach’s Double Violin Concerto that emerged head and shoulders above all else. For here was such wonderful chemistry between orchestra leader, Malcolm Latchem, and co-soloist, Catherine Hayek, which resulted not only in a flawless ensemble, but one where both players’ tonal and expressive individuality still shone through, unimpeded. The opening Vivace and final Allegro were despatched with enviable precision, and a dynamic balance finely attuned to the imitative counterpoint involved. The central Largo ma non tanto was given with a great deal of poignancy, though which never retreated into mere sentimentality,

With equally sympathetic accompaniment and musical direction, this surely ranked as one of the best string performances heard for some time and brought this immensely successful investigation of works from the German Baroque to a laudable conclusion.

Philip R Buttall