Many Delights from The English Concert and Kristian Bezuidenhout

United KingdomUnited Kingdom J. C. Bach, C. P. E. Bach, Mozart: The English Concert/Kristian Bezuidenhout (fortepiano/director). Wigmore Hall, London, 8.1.2016. (CC)J. C. Bach, Symphony in G, Op. 3/6

C. P. E. Bach, Keyboard Concerto in C, Wq20/H423

Mozart,  Symphony No. 15 in G, K124; Keyboard Concerto No. 9 in E flat, K271, “Jeunehomme”

The English Concert has impressed on a number of previous occasions at the Wigmore (try here and here for example). If this was not quite on the same level, it was nevertheless thought-provoking. This is certainly not the first time the English Concert has worked with South African fortepianist Kristian Bezuidenhout, and one should welcome the carefully chosen programme. Bezuidenhout directed from the keyboard throughout and there was a clear feeling of enjoyment from all concerned.

The evening began with a Symphony by the “London” Bach – Johann Christian – the G Major, Op. 3 No. 6. The fast speed for the initial Allegro assai never threatened to blur articulation; more, there was fire imparted to J. C. Bach that one rarely encounters. The sighing aspect of the central Andante’s phrases was well projected: the gentilité one so associates with the “London” Bach was here in spades. Phrasing throughout was beautiful, and Bezuidenhout added some lovely decorations from the continuo. The finale brought with it a pronounced hunting bent, with the horns obviously involved; string ornaments were perfectly judged.

The differences in outlook between J. C. Bach and C. P. E. Bach could hardly have been better demonstrated than by the juxtaposition of these two works. The first movement of C. P. E.’s essay is characterised by its gestural nature. Trills were abuzz, and his use of silence is most interesting. The fortepiano’s sound in the Wigmore was brittle but the blend with the orchestra from the back of the hall was just right. (Just as no years of composition were given in the programme for either of the first two works, so the provenance of Bezuidenhout’s instrument was withheld from us, unfortunately.) The Sturm und Drang elements were honoured, as was the marked expressivity of the central Adagio ma non troppo in which the aching rise of the initial melodic gesture itself was particularly affecting. That quirkiness that so defines C. P. E. Bach was heard at its finest in the finale, the bright sound and Bezuidenhout’s spiky bassline offering much joy.

Mozart’s Symphony No. 15 (1772) is delightful, if one has to accept that the composer’s full genius has not yet blossomed. Bezuidenhout’s take is that the opening Allegro has a definite “con brio” appended to it. Breezy yet with a nicely gentile contrasting section in the exposition and an effective chain of suspensions later on, the first movement certainly invigorated. The central Andante certainly seemed close in spirit to the J. C. Bach of the first half, and the highlighting of inner lines was most appealing; decorations were always tasteful. The extra-rapid Menuetto led to a fascinating Trio that features an active and charming double-bass. The finale is frankly rather bland as a piece – the English Concert did what they could.

Finally came Mozart’s so-called “Jeunehomme” concerto. Bezuidenhout offered continuo in the tuttis as well as providing the solo part, using music throughout. There was something of a relentless feel to the opening Allegro, even if the cross-handed effects worked well. The central Andantino offered the evening’s first moments of musical darkness – or at least evening shade – and here the performance came into its own with a wonderful moment of held-breath stasis. The final Rondeau is indicated by Mozart as Presto, and that it certainly was here, which put the striking Menuetto insertion into even higher relief. More, Bezuidenhout found definite darker shadows here, too.

This was an interesting, if short, concert, certainly, and one that held many delights. If it was not quite as memorable as previous occasions when this band has featured here, perhaps that is down to the repertoire choices.

Colin Clarke