‘Baroque & More’ from The Welsh Sinfonia

United KingdomUnited Kingdom C. P. E. Bach, J. S. Bach, Biber, Geminiani, Marcello, Mozart. The Welsh Sinfonia, Robin Stowell (violin), Gillian Taylor (oboe), Dora Stoutzker Hall, Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Cardiff. 10. 11.2012 (NR)

C. P. E. Bach: Symphony no. 1 in G
J. S. Bach: Concerto for violin, oboe and orchestra
Heinrich Biber: La Battalia
Francesco Geminiani: Concerto Grosso (after Corelli)
Alessandro Marcello: Oboe Concerto
Mozart:  Divertimento K. 136

The string section of the Welsh Sinfonia, led by Robin Stowell and supported by Carl Grainger at the harpsichord, played a very attractive and stimulating programme of Baroque and post-Baroque music at the still-new Dora Stoutzker Hall in the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff. It was the first time I had heard a performance there, and I was extremely impressed not only with the rich acoustic but with the airiness and spaciousness of the auditorium, which felt as though it could easily absorb the smallest and the largest musical forces. It was interesting that the concert should have started with one of C. P. E. Bach’s late string symphonies, a work that seems to veer between true expressiveness and a straining for expression: uneasily experimental music, and hard to listen to, with its staccato stop-starts and its sense of radical insecurity as to where it is going, or could go. It was even more interesting to have this immediately contrasted with a favourite work by Bach’s father, Johann Sebastian – the Concerto for Violin and Oboe, music that feels so completely at home with itself and its structures. The two soloists, Robin Stowell and Gillian Taylor were perfectly attuned and effortless in realising this.

In 1673, exactly 100 years before C. P. E. Bach’s piece was written, Biber’s La Battalia had its first outing, with its range of quirky effects, including a strip of paper lodged under the A-string of the double bass to suggest a military drum, and the weird second movement in which each instrument plays a different snatch of popular melody in a kind of drunken chorus. All this was managed with great stylishness and period feel. So was Geminiani’s concerto version of Corelli’s Variations on La Folia, with a special mention here for the virtuosic cello passages from Nick Gethin. Gillian Taylor returned for the Oboe Concerto allegedly by Alessandro Marcello – one of those rare composers of the Baroque period who was rich enough not to have to write for money. This, his best-known work, which was also transcribed as a harpsichord concerto by J. S. Bach, has some wonderfully haunting lines for the soloist and accompaniments of great delicacy and discretion.

To finish their concert the band moved back outside the Baroque altogether, with the Divertimento K.136, written by the 16-year-old Mozart during his early time with the Archbishop of Salzburg – for whose predecessor Biber had worked a century earlier. This has to be one of the freshest and most satisfying of all Mozart’s works, so light and airy, yet so solid, so completely imagined. Extraordinary to think – as the intelligent programming of this concert made us think – that it was actually composed a year before the C. P. E. Bach piece that had been played at the outset, and that two such different kinds of musical mind should be simultaneously at work.

The Welsh Sinfonia is a fine, thoughtful, energetic outfit and I look forward to hearing them at full strength.

Neil Reeve